Sunday, 29 December 2013

Caught in Chelsea’s Webb- Liverpool Slip to Second Consecutive Defeat

Liverpool went into the game at Stamford Bridge with a relatively high level of confidence- despite coming into the game on the back of a defeat against City, we had performed well in that game and felt that we had the ability to beat Chelsea. History was also in our favour; previous to this fixture Liverpool had never lost two consecutive games under Brendan Rodgers, and Chelsea had not defeated us in the league since 2009/10. Unfortunately it just wasn’t our day- both of these runs were broken as Liverpool ended up losing 2-1.

It all started so well. Martin Skrtel, who has come under fire a lot recently for his error-prone nature (and all-round inability to function particularly effectively as a centre-back) opened the scoring after just three minutes, poking the ball, for once, into the correct goal! Sadly, that was pretty much it in terms of Liverpool attacks in the first half. From then on it was all Chelsea; the reds didn’t look their usual selves at all, getting completely dominated. Chelsea pressed well and got their reward on 17 minutes- Hazard equalising with a lovely curled effort after the ball fell kindly for him. Despite my hopes this did not provoke a reaction from Liverpool. We continued to sit back, and on 34 minutes were punished again, Eto’o firing home after a catalogue of defensive errors (as well as a weak attempt at a save from Mignolet). For the last 10 minutes of the half Liverpool seemed fractionally improved, but still lacked any sort of attacking potency.

A lot of the game was sadly much more focused on the officiating than the football being played. I thought we’d been very hard done by at City- this was even worse! The referee, Howard Webb, didn’t exactly cover himself in glory in the first half, not even showing a card to Samuel Eto’o after he tackled Henderson, studs showing, inside the first minute. He should have been off, but nobody thought too much of it at the time as Skrtel scored from the subsequent free kick.

Things only got worse in the second period, with Webb seemingly determined not to give Luis Suarez a penalty. Personally I think Suarez has cleaned up his act a lot lately; he seems to go down much less easily than he used to, and in general seems to have a more relaxed, civil demeanour about him. Officials don’t seem to have picked up on this, and consequently his reputation as a diver still goes before him. The first incident was from a corner- John Terry (incidentally playing his 600th game for Chelsea) jumped on top of him, completely preventing Suarez from jumping for the ball and bundling him to the ground in the process. Webb was placed well to see the incident but gave nothing- a blatantly unjust decision. The second was even worse: Suarez was involved again, this time getting fouled by the man who should already have been off, Eto’o. Cesar Azpilicueta had just done well to dispossess Suarez, then Eto’o came across and knocked Suarez to the ground right in front of Webb’s nose. Unbelievably he gave nothing, and Chelsea went on to retain their 1 goal lead and win the game.

These weren’t the only two refereeing decisions I was aggrieved at. Oscar dived multiple times during the match, and was never once punished for it. He later committed a clearly bookable offence on Lucas, so he should have been off the pitch. Willian also totted up about 6 fouls early in the game without any reprimand. That said, Liverpool were by no means at their best. Though the referee has to shoulder a large portion of the blame for the result, we could have played much better, and at the end of the day the two penalty shouts would have been inconsequential if we could have scored more from open play.

To sum up, I’m very frustrated about the defeat and am angry at Howard Webb for his awful decision-making, but I don’t think we can complain too much seeing as the players were also at great fault. Fortunately this is only one game, and this defeat is by no means, as some reactionaries are dubbing it, ‘the end of our season’. The next game is against Hull on New Years Day- onwards and upwards.
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Monday, 16 December 2013

Spurs 0 -5 Liverpool: Post-Match Thoughts

Yesterday (Sunday 15th December), Liverpool travelled to White Hart Lane to face a team who have been widely tipped as their rivals for a Champions League spot, Tottenham Hotspur. If Liverpool were at all concerned about the potential season-long ramifications of the game then they did not show it- despite (or perhaps in part thanks to- I’ll get to this later) the absence of the skipper Liverpool put in arguably their best performance of the season to come out, astonishingly, 5-0 victors.

For the first five minutes it looked as if the game would pan out as widely predicted. Both sides were piling on the pressure, trying to get in the faces of the opposition. If anything, Tottenham had the better of the early exchanges. However, they were quickly overwhelmed by the rapid passing and movement of the Liverpool attack- Sterling in particular wreaked havoc. The reds deservedly broke the deadlock after 18 minutes, with Henderson and Coutinho combining nicely before Suarez exquisitely beat his man in the box and curled the ball into the corner. Spurs had no answer to the Liverpool pressure, and consequently Liverpool were able to add a second before half time- Suarez this time turning provider for Jordan Henderson.

When the first half ended it was a disappointment- we had the upper hand, and I was worried the break would kill our momentum. It wasn’t to be- Liverpool came out very strongly. In all fairness Spurs made a half-decent attempt to rally- they had a few decent attacks, but in truth never really looked like scoring. Any distant hope of a comeback was quashed on 63 minutes when midfielder Paulinho was sent off. There has been a fair bit of debate surrounding the red card, but I definitely think it was the right decision. Accidental or not the fact is Paulinho caught Suarez in the chest with his ridiculously high boot, a dangerous ‘challenge’ (in inverted commas as it was never really a contest for the ball- Suarez was always getting there first) worthy of a sending off.

12 minutes later Liverpool took advantage- Suarez played a nice cross into the middle, where Jon Flanagan of all people hit the bouncing ball expertly into the very top corner. This crumpled the last of Tottenham’s resistance; the floodgates opened and Liverpool slammed two more past Spurs in the latter stages, Suarez scoring the 4th with an excellent lob and Sterling rounding things off in the 89th minute.

Although Tottenham were not at their best, it cannot be argued that Liverpool weren't deserving of the win. They played some sumptuous football, moving the ball round expertly in midfield then making a slick, smooth transition into attack. This may well have been partially down to the absence of Steven Gerrard- though his long balls are exceptional when they come off, he does have a tendency to be wasteful. His age also means he isn’t quite as mobile as he once was- the role of technician that Allen played in his place was a breath of fresh air for the team. 

To sum up, Liverpool put in one of the performances of the season to thrash Tottenham away from home. Suarez was excellent as usual, involved in all 5 goals, but the emphasis was more on the team than the individual. If we can keep up this standard of play we will certainly be in with a very real chance at the title come the end of the season. A lot of people are still dubious, but if a 5-0 win away from home against the team that finished just a point off 4th last season isn’t enough to make people reassess just what we’re capable of, I don’t know what is. The future is bright.
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Sunday, 8 December 2013

A Tale of Two Articles- Language Analysis!

Note: This piece has been uploaded for a bit of fun! I did it as my English homework- it isn't an actual article, it is merely a comparison of my previous piece on the Norwich game and an article on the same game from the official Norwich website.
See the two articles here:

The first text is an article written about Liverpool vs Norwich, from the perspective of a Liverpool fan. The other is a match report on the same game that was published on the official Norwich City website.

Though both texts are about the same event, the tones created by the respective authors are very different. On the Norwich website, phrases such as ‘on the wrong end’ are used, which imply that Norwich were not particularly at fault, and they were simply unlucky. In contrast, the article on LFC Fans Corner focuses mostly on the good play of Liverpool rather than the bad luck of Norwich. Emotive words such as ‘spectacular’ and ‘phenomenal’ are used to express the level of play that Liverpool were attaining.

Another technique used in the article on LFC Fans Corner is alliteration. Phillippe Coutinho is described as ‘creating chances’ and ‘dribbling round defenders’; the flowing nature of the language mirrors the fluid play that Liverpool were producing. Alliteration is also used in the article from the Norwich site, but to create a different effect. It describes Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers as ‘applauding in admiration’-in this instance, the use of alliteration alludes to the repetitive nature of the action. It suggests that applause were drawn a lot from Rodgers due to the extremely good performance of his team; this in turn makes Norwich look better as it further emphasises their helplessness in preventing the landslide victory.

Finally, the Norwich article uses litotes to try and portray Liverpool’s victory as somewhat fortuitous, again to show Norwich City as unlucky rather than merely outplayed. It describes the move that led to the second Liverpool goal as ‘nothing special’, suggesting Liverpool were lucky to get a goal from it. The piece on LFC Fans Corner, on the other hand, uses hyperbole to make Liverpool seem even better than they actually were. When describing the same goal, the author of this article said ‘it required a large amount of skill’. This serves to dispel any nagging thoughts the reader might be having that the goal was lucky. 

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Canaries Creamed

On Wednesday, Liverpool hosted Norwich City. A win in their previous game had seen Norwich climb out of the bottom 3, and Liverpool came into the fixture on the back of a shock 3-1 defeat to Hull City. This did not seem to knock their confidence too much, as they eventually came out 5-1 winners in a victory inspired by Luis Suarez.

Norwich started the game brightly, and at first there were worrying sings that the absence of Sturridge could once again lead to a failure to create and convert chances. However, as it turned out, we don’t need chances to score! After 15 minutes, Suarez conjured a spectacular goal out of nothing. Ruddy hit his goal kick long, which, after an aerial duel, broke to Suarez. The Uruguayan took the ball on the half-volley, despite being 40 yards out. It shot through the air, with power, curve and deadly accuracy. Ruddy was helpless as the ball flew perfectly into the top corner of his net. It was a phenomenal goal, but Suarez was by no means finished.

14 minutes later, he netted again. This time it came from a corner- Gerrard looked as if he was going to header, but pulled away at the last second. This caused confusion in the Norwich defence, and Suarez was on hand to slam the ball emphatically into the roof of the net. Though not in the same league as his first, this goal required a large amount of skill, as it was tough to keep the bouncing ball down. It would have been easy to completely sky it (just ask Torres), but Suarez made it look easy.

Just 6 minutes later, he was at it again! On 35 minutes he completed his hat-trick, and completed it in style. Having flicked the ball brilliantly over a defender, he then shaped to shoot. Instead of hitting it straight away he delayed it slightly, creating more space. Once he’d got the space he was after, he cannoned it home into the corner, leaving poor Ruddy helpless once more. It was arguably even better than the first goal, and that’s really saying something.

Liverpool could have had another couple before half time, but the teams went in at 3-0. When the match got underway again, Norwich showed little sign of making any sort of comeback, and Suarez continued to wreak havoc with their defence. On 74 minutes he unbelievably added a 4th, and it required just as much talent as the rest. Gerrard won a free kick, and Suarez stepped up. Sublimely, he curled it round the wall and into the corner. On any other day it would have been goal of the match! Suarez nearly got one or two more to his name, but it was actually Norwich who scored next. A nice cross, put in by youngster Nathan Redmond, was excellently headed in by Bradley Johnson. This didn’t change the flow of the game though, and Liverpool got their reward for continuing to press in the 88th minute, when Suarez (who else?) set up Sterling to score the 5th and final goal.

Contrary to what the article may have had you believe so far, Suarez was not the only Liverpool player to make a contribution. Coutinho was fantastic, creating a lot of chances and dribbling round defenders with ease at times. Johnson also had a good first half, though he faded off as the game went on. Sterling was very lively, and consistently made extremely selfless runs and passes. His reward was a goal and assist. That said, Suarez will rightly take all of the plaudits, because he was just sensational. It was quite possibly the best individual performance I have ever witnessed, and if we can hold on to him in January it should be regarded as the biggest achievement of our season to date.

Obviously it would be unreasonable to expect such stellar performances from Suarez every week, but the fact that he was able to so emphatically step up to fill the void left by Daniel Sturridge is promising. It shows that we can win, and win well, without him- hopefully we’ll be able to retain our place in the top 4 during the time he is sidelined.
-James Martin
Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Everton 3-3 Liverpool: Post-Match Analysis

I’m still in shock. Yesterday (Saturday 23rd November), Liverpool and Everton played out one of the best, most dramatic Merseyside derbies to date. Many predicted it would be a good game, with both sides having good seasons, but nobody could have foreseen that it would turn into a six goal thriller, filled with all the ingredients to make a great game of football- controversy, exceptional play, drama and action right to the final whistle.

In their usual fashion, Liverpool started quickly. They won a corner inside 4 minutes, and subsequently scored from it- Coutinho smashing the ball emphatically into the net after Suarez had his shot blocked. Everton would have been disappointed to concede in such a manner- the marking was questionable, and James McCarthy, who was meant to be on the line to clear the ball, was standing in the goal! Consequently, his attempted clearance was ineffective, and Liverpool took the lead. However, it didn’t last long. 8 minutes into the game Leighton Baines delivered a very nice free kick, which, after a bit of a scramble, was turned home skilfully by Kevin Mirallas.

A few minutes later, Mirallas was involved again, but not in the right way. He tried to rob the ball from Suarez by sliding in, but his tackle was late and high, and his studs were up. It clearly should have been a red card (I may be biased, but I’m sure anyone would agree it was a horrendous challenge), but referee Phil Dowd only deemed it worthy of a yellow. This was not an isolated incident. The Everton game plan essentially seemed to be ‘try and get Suarez stretchered off the pitch’, and Mirallas in particular was guilty of multiple fouls. How he didn’t get sent off is beyond me.

Unfortunately for them, even dirty tactics could not contain the Uruguayan. 19 minutes in, he won a free kick in a promising position. Agger, Gerrard and Suarez all looked interested in taking it, but in the end it was Suarez who took on the responsibility. He certainly delivered- his glorious, curling effort got through the (admittedly somewhat scrappy) wall and past the outstretched glove of Tim Howard.  The game then died down a little, although both sides were still creating chances. Mignolet pulled off a couple of great saves to keep Liverpool in front going into the break.

After half time, it carried on in much the same way. With Baines off for Deulofeu, Everton became slightly more attacking, and Liverpool were forced into defending quite a lot. Mignolet made some astounding saves to retain the reds lead. With 30 minutes to go, Joe Allen was presented with a glorious chance to reward Mignolet’s hard work by all but sinking Everton. Suarez dances exceptionally through 3 Everton defenders, and the ball broke for the Welshman. He was clean through on Howard, with Suarez to his left. He opted to shoot, and understandably so, for it was a very easy chance. However, he somehow put the ball wide of the target, letting Everton off the hook. It was extremely frustrating; even if he wasn’t confident taking on the simple shooting chance, why not just square it to Suarez for a tap-in? Suarez seemed to be thinking along the same lines- he was visibly furious with Allen.

This was arguably the catalyst that Everton required. They redoubled their efforts, and with 20 minutes to go levelled the game through Romelu Lukaku. The chance came after Mignolet made yet another sublime stop (he made 9 in total throughout the game), but could not gather the ball. The Liverpool box was crowded with blue shirts, and when the ball got driven it and fell to Lukaku, the outcome was inevitable. At this point Rodgers took off Lucas for Sturridge, a real sign of intent. Unfortunately, it did not immediately pay off. Everton won a corner in the 82nd minute, which Lukaku headed powerfully home for his 2nd and Everton’s 3rd, putting them in front for the first time. Sturridge was on the line, but could not prevent the ball sailing over his head and in.

Despite the fact that there was so little time left, it didn’t really feel like the scoring was over, and so proved. With just a minute left of the ninety, substitute Daniel Sturridge headed home after a great free kick from the captain, Steven Gerrard. This brought things level, but Liverpool were not done. They kept piling on the pressure deep into added time, resulting in what was very nearly the winning goal. Suarez was denied by a good save from Howard, and Sturridge actually put the ball into the net, but from an offside position. Eventually the final whistle blew, bringing the rollercoaster of a match to an end.

Mignolet gets my man of the match award, as without him we would have ended up with a result a lot worse than a draw. Jon Flanagan, who was filling in at left-back for Enrique and Cissokho, also deserves a mention. He made some good tackles, and though he didn’t provide much attacking impetus he was solid at the back. All in all, although it was disappointing not to win against our fierce rivals, a draw was probably a fair result. It was an excellent, hard-fought game of football, and a pleasure (albeit a stressful pleasure) to watch. It should be remembered that an away draw against e team sitting 6th in the table is nothing to be ashamed of, and with three very winnable games coming up the overriding feeling at Anfield should be optimism.
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Friday, 22 November 2013

Preview and Predictions: Merseyside Derby

The day is almost upon us. The first derby of the season against our fierce rivals, Everton, is just around the corner. Other than perhaps Manchester United clashes, this fixture has no equal. Unlike in recent years, this derby is a very important match in terms of league positioning. Everton will move up to join 2nd with a win, and a victory for Liverpool will put them top. If possible then, the stakes have been raised even higher. Who will get the all-important victory?

Somewhat predictably, I’m going to say Liverpool. Of course I’m biased (I’m the first to admit that), but when you look at the two squads Liverpool’s is clearly superior. Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge will surely wreak havoc in the Everton defence, as they are simply a class above the likes of Distin and Jagielka. Also, in midfield, Everton are likely to be overwhelmed by Philippe Coutinho’s technical ability, as well as the sheer passion and determination of Gerrard and Henderson. As long as we are able to put in the type of performance that we did against Fulham, we shouldn’t have too much trouble.

That said, Everton is by no means to be written off. They have a very solid goalkeeper in Tim Howard, and Suarez and Sturridge will have to be on their game to beat him. Chelsea loanee Romelu Lukaku also has the potential to cause our defence some trouble. Also, with the game likely to be somewhat highly charged, the physicality of Gareth Barry could come in useful. However, as they are coming into this game on the back of a 0-0 draw with bottom-placed club Crystal Palace, I think Liverpool fans are justified in feeling quietly confident.

There is also the issue of fatigue from international games. The majority of the Everton squad have enjoyed a week’s break from football, and will go into the derby refreshed. In contrast, many of the Liverpool players are coming into the game battered and bruised from international duty, including the talismanic duo dubbed ‘SAS’- Suarez and Sturridge. Sturridge was forced to play the full 90 minutes against Germany despite carrying an injury, whilst Suarez played against Jordan on Wednesday and had to borrow Liverpool owner John Henry’s private jet in order to get back to England more quickly! It isn’t what you’d call ideal preparation for such a big game, and it may prove costly.

The thing I’m most looking forward to about the game is the battle between Leighton Baines and Glen Johnson. They are both classy full-backs, and I’m sure they will look to get at each other throughout the game; this will almost certainly prove to be a good watch. I’m also interested to see how our centre-backs (whoever they might be) manage Lukaku. Sakho has looked great for the last few games, in particular against Arsenal, but he hasn’t come up against anyone as physical as Lukaku thus far. Hopefully he will be able to handle him, but, quality player that he is, I’m sure Lukaku will cause him some problems.

Finally, to the prediction. On paper, I think that Liverpool have the much better team. However, with a lot of the players tired from international duty, combined with the fact that Everton, specifically Lukaku, poses such a physical threat going forward, I think it will be a close game. I reckon it will finish 2-1 to Liverpool, with Suarez scoring a brace and Lukaku getting one for Everton. However, seeing as I’ve only predicted the outcome of a Liverpool game correctly about 4 times, I wouldn’t set much store by that! At the end of the day I’m just hoping for a good game, and, of course, a win for the reds.
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Liverpool 4-0 Fulham: The Reds Bounce Back in Style

After a poor game against Arsenal last week, Liverpool hosted a weak Fulham side with only one thing in their mind- getting back on the right track. They certainly achieved this, dominating from the outset and eventually coming out 4-0 victors. Thanks to this, as well as losses for Manchester City and Arsenal (and a draw against West Brom for Chelsea), we are now looking very strong indeed, sitting in 2nd place- just two points off first.

The game was the perfect response to the lacklustre performance against Arsenal. Straight away the team looked a lot sharper, showing great willingness to press the opposition high up the pitch. Admittedly Fulham and Arsenal cannot reasonably be compared, but it was our style of play that was so encouraging. Against the Gunners, Liverpool sat back somewhat, inviting pressure. They were like a different team against Fulham, and their determination to put pressure on the opposition meant that they never had much time on the ball. This led to Liverpool dominating the early exchanges. They finally got the breakthrough on 22 minutes, when Amorebieta turned the ball into his own net after a brilliant free kick from Steven Gerrard. After this, the floodgates opened. Just three minutes later Skrtel doubled Liverpool’s advantage, heading home from another Gerrard delivery- this time from a corner.

Suarez looked dangerous throughout the game, and he finally got his first goal on 35 minutes. Jordan Henderson played a glorious through-ball into the path of the Uruguayan, who made the tough task of beating the on-rushing Stekelenburg look exceptionally easy. Henderson’s performance throughput the game was outstanding- though many have openly voiced doubts about his quality (and, in the case of Alex Ferguson, his running style!), he demonstrated just how good he is in this game. His combination with Glen Johnson (who also had a great game) down the right hand side was a joy to watch at times.

Fulham managed to keep the score at 3-0 until half-time, but it was clear that they didn’t stand any real chance of getting back into the game. Somewhat predictably, Liverpool were able to effortlessly pick up where they had left off in the second half. Daniel Sturridge was denied a goal by a great save from Stekelenburg, and Suarez uncharacteristically fluffed the follow-up shot, blazing over from about 6 yards out. However, he made amends minutes later, latching on to a nice ball from Gerrard and, once again, finishing extremely coolly. Despite piling on the pressure for the majority of the rest of the game, we couldn’t add another goal, and it finished 4-0.

Philippe Coutinho, who looked understandably rusty against Arsenal, played very well. Admittedly he is not yet back to his sparkling best, and some of his long shots were frankly absurd, but he showed glimpses of the brilliance he demonstrated during the second half of last season. The only real negative thing to take from the game was the once-again useless performance of Aly Cissokho. Despite the weakness of Fulham, Cissokho was unable to provide any attacking impetus When Enrique was brought on to replace him things got better, but was still nowhere near up to the standard of play Johnson and Henderson were producing on the right. It highlighted the need to strengthen in this area come January.

On the whole though, the win was very encouraging. We finally returned to playing pressing, attacking football (something we have strayed away from doing in recent games), and it paid dividends. In a season as tight as this one is panning out to be, beating teams that ‘should’ be beaten is even more crucial than ever before, so the excellent performances we have been pumping out against teams such as Fulham and West Brom bode very well indeed. Hopefully the convincing victory will give the team confidence to go on and win the Merseyside derby, which is coming up after the international break.
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Friday, 8 November 2013

Coutinho vs Oscar

At the age of 21, Philippe Coutinho has already won the Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italiana with Inter Milan, as well as the U20’s World Cup with Brazil. Fellow countryman Oscar (aged 22) has also won the U20’s World Cup as well as the 2013 Confederations Cup, and has also won the Europa League with Chelsea. There is no denying that they are two of the brightest young talents in the Premier League, but the rivalry between Chelsea and Liverpool fans always sparks the same question: who’s better?

On looking at the statistics, the natural first reaction is to say Oscar is the better player. He has already won a major European trophy, and has been capped 26 times for the Brazil senior team, compared to Coutinho’s 1 call-up. He also has a higher ‘goals per game’ career average, 0.22 compared to Coutinho’s 0.14. However, when non-Premier League clubs are factored out of this, Coutinho’s record is much better. Despite starting double the amount of games Coutinho did in the 2012/13 season (as he signed earlier), he got the same amount of assists and scored only one more goal. Also, Oscar is a year older than Coutinho, and Oscar has only become a regular in the Brazil senior squad in the last year. It is unsurprising that Coutinho hasn’t broken into the regular team yet with the wealth of talent that Brazil has, and at the age of just 21 he will almost certainly break into the national team sooner or later.

It is clear to see that when Premier League goal/assist records are compared, Coutinho comes out on top. However, a player’s talent and worth cannot, obviously, be judged purely on how many goals and assists they get; it is about their contribution to the team as a whole. There is no doubt that Oscar fits into the Chelsea setup extremely well. His combination with Hazard is superb, and he generally links up well with the front man as well (insert Torres/Ba/Eto’o here depending on how the Special One is feeling). Indeed, in the 2012/13 season, he created a chance with more regularity than Coutinho, one every 47 minutes compared to one every 55. His pass accuracy was also higher. However, Coutinho also slots nicely into the Liverpool system. His link-up with Sturridge last season was superb, resulting in an astonishingly low number of minutes per clear cut chance created: just 96! This is compared to Oscar’s 705.2 minutes per clear cut chance created in the 2012/13 season; the difference is astounding, and says a lot about the quality of the chances that the two players set up. Coutinho’s crossing accuracy is also marginally better- 29% compared to Oscar’s 26%.

These statistics clearly show that Oscar and Coutinho are both extremely good young players who have very positive impacts on their club, and it is hard to separate the two of them. However, from watching the two of them play, it is possible to see a slightly different mentality. Coutinho is the epitome of a team player- he receives the ball, looks up, and nearly always makes the right decision (be that a pass, shot or dribble). Oscar, though not by any means a selfish player, does have the tendency to be over-elaborate. For example, I went to see Reading play Chelsea last season at the Madjeski. At 2-0 up, Oscar was presented with a very good chance. Had he gone for the header it would have been an almost certain goal, and at 3-0 the match would have been won. Instead, he opted to go for the bicycle kick. There was absolutely no questioning the technique; his contact with the ball was sublime, and it very nearly ended up in the back of the net. However, it flew just wide, and Reading went on to score 2 late on and force the draw. This one incident sums up Oscar in some ways- his skill is prodigious, but on occasion his decision-making is not.

To sum up, I have huge respect for both Coutinho and Oscar, who considering their respective ages have achieved a huge amount thus far. They both make invaluable contributions to their team, and I am sure they will both go on to be some of the best midfielders in the world in a few years time. However, if I had to say who I thought was better I would have to go with Coutinho. Although Oscar has had more success with the national team (which is to be expected given the fact he is older than Coutinho), the statistics show that Coutinho has had a slightly larger impact in the Premier League. Now Liverpool just need him to return from injury so he can start having that impact again!
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Defences Beware- Liverpool are Back

On Saturday 26th October, Liverpool took on West Brom at Anfield. Having lost to them in the last thee games between the sides, they came out determined to end that streak. They did so, and they did so in style. They eventually came out 4-1 victors, but it could conceivably have been a much bigger score line. They played some glorious attacking football at times, and there were lots of encouraging signs to suggest that Liverpool, finally, are returning to the top of their game.

Liverpool took charge of the game from the very start, and were ahead after just twelve minutes. The goal was entirely down to Luis Suarez, who since his return from suspension has quickly re-established himself as the best player in the Premier League. He slotted the ball through the legs of Jonas Olsson, then fired coolly home into the bottom corner. The individual skill was immense. However, he wasn’t finished. Just 5 minutes later he showcased his vast range of talents again, with a simply astounding header from 17 yards out. Cissokho’s cross somewhat luckily fell to the Uruguayan on the edge of the box, who somehow generated enough power to send the ball flying into the top corner, past the helpless Boaz Myhill. Liverpool stayed on top for the rest of the half, with Suarez wreaking havoc in the West Brom defence, but they could not add another goal before half time.

They started the second half where they had left off, immediately blowing West Brom away with their excellent off-the-ball movement and fast attacks. Sturridge’s quick feet won Liverpool a free kick in a promising position 10 minutes into the half. A glorious free kick from the captain, Steven Gerrard, put the ball on a plate for Suarez to head home, thus completing his hat-trick. His performance certainly warranted at least three goals, and he could well have had more. The positive effect he has had on our already solid attack since his return has been immeasurable. Whilst he was out of action, some people seemed to forget just how good he was. Indeed, due to his less than ideal conduct during the summer transfer window, some fans called on the club to sell him! That now seems absolutely ludicrous. He does come with some excess baggage, but he more than makes up for it with his sublime talent on the football pitch.

That said, Liverpool are by no means a one man team, and Daniel Sturridge was eager to prove this. Not to be outshone, he really came to life after Suarez’s third goal. He very nearly made it 4 just minutes later; his powerful shot had Myhill totally beaten, but it somehow stayed out after hitting the underside of the bar. With both of our world class strikers into their stride, it looked set to become a rout. However, the assistant referee apparently had other ideas! After Lucas dispossessed Billy Jones in the box, the linesman inexplicably flagged for a foul. The referee seemed just as befuddled by this as the rest of us, but decided to bow tot the ‘superior’ judgement of his assistant and give the penalty. It was bizarre- it simply wasn’t a foul, and had the game been closer I would have been livid about it. Fortunately, the penalty (which was subsequently converted by James Morrison) had no impact on the result, but it was frustrating to be denied a clean sheet by such a ridiculous piece of officiating.

Liverpool were temporarily put out of their stride by the West Brom goal, and for a few nervous minutes it looked as if there might be a way back into the game for West Brom. However, any hopes of a West Brom comeback were well and truly crushed on 77 minutes, when Daniel Sturridge scored one of the best goals I have ever seen. He was just outside the box, and saw the goalkeeper marginally off his line.  What he tried next is a mark of the confidence flowing through him at the moment, and the fact that he managed to pull it off is a mark of his pure class. He chipped Myhill, measuring the lob to perfection so it dropped over the keeper and right into the top corner. Good as Suarez’s three goals were, this one blew them all out of the water.

To have both of these quality strikers on our team gives us what is what is undoubtedly (unless you’re Alan Hansen) the best strike partnership in the Premier League. Coutinho is set to return next week, and the thought of those three together is tantalising. Coutinho- the playmaker- has the ability to feed great balls into the path of one of our two front men, who, in their current form, are almost guaranteed to finish it! If we can play like we did in this game for the rest of the season (and that is a huge if), there is no reason why we cannot compete for not just the top 4, but also the title. Admittedly West Brom are not the most prestigious of opponents, but the way Liverpool played yesterday was, without a shadow of a doubt, the performance of potential champions. Defences- beware.
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Newcastle 2-2 Liverpool: Post-match Thoughts

On Saturday 19th October, Liverpool travelled to St. James’ Park to face Newcastle United. They went into the game as favourites, but Newcastle were the better team for large spells of the match, and in the end Liverpool could only manage a 2-2 draw, despite Newcastle having a man sent off just before half time. Based on the two teams’ performances a draw was probably the fairest result, but Liverpool really should have been able to beat a 10 man Newcastle side.

From the very start of the game I started to get a feeling of unease. Liverpool usually come out strongly ad try to get an early goal, especially against weaker teams. However, in this game they just sat back, allowing Newcastle to mount some attacks. If the idea was to catch them on the counter-attack then it certainly didn’t work, as Suarez and Sturridge were not on top of their games and the few first half chances they did muster were not taken well. They were punished for their negative start to the match after 23 minutes, when Cabaye was given far too much space about 30 yards out. Admittedly it was a fantastic finish, but the defence should have known their man. Cabaye is well known for his long shots, and he should have been closed down. Mignolet was also at fault. He seemed to have a clear view of the ball from almost the moment it was struck, but he dived very late. Consequently he got nowhere near saving the shot, and Liverpool fell behind.

This was the wake-up call Liverpool needed; though still nowhere close to their best, the standard of attacking football did improve after they went behind. Suarez and Sturridge started linking up together fairly well, and it was this combination that led to the pivotal moment in the match- the penalty decision and sending off of Yanga-Mbiwa. Sturridge played a lovely lofted ball into the path of Suarez, who controlled it excellently. He looked set to slot it past the oncoming Krul, but before he got the chance he was pulled down by Mbiwa. It was a simple decision for the referee; Mbiwa, the last man, had prevented a clear goal-scoring opportunity. He was sent off, and Steven Gerrard converted the resulting penalty. This was notable in that it was his 100th Premier League goal for Liverpool, a stunning achievement for any player, especially a midfielder. He is one of only 13 players to score 100 goals for a single Premier League club.

If Liverpool thought they would have it all their own way in the second half against the 10 men of Newcastle, they were woefully mistaken. At times it looked like Liverpool were the team who’d had a man sent off, as nobody could find any space. They struggled to create any chance that looked likely to result in a goal. Newcastle were defending extremely well, and got their reward in the 56th minute. They were awarded a free kick in a seemingly innocuous position, which somehow resulted in a goal for defender Paul Dummet! Cabaye’s ball drifted over everyone, and Dummet stole in at the near post and curled the ball round Mignolet. It was somewhat against the run of play, but by failing to put the game to bed and by defending shoddily, Liverpool were asking for it.

From then onwards, Liverpool dominated the game. They finally seemed to click, and Newcastle suddenly looked vulnerable at the back. Finally they managed to bring the match level again in the 72nd minute through Daniel Sturridge, who latched on to a Suarez cross and headed home. Minutes later, Suarez had the chance to give Liverpool the lead, but his shot was just too high, hitting the crossbar on its way over. Despite creating a couple more chances, most notably a free kick in a very good position deep into added time at the end of the half, Liverpool were unable to take the lead, and the game finished 2-2.

The result in itself is not too bad, as a draw keeps us at the right end of the table. However, if we genuinely want to challenge for a top 4 place then we have to win games like these. To have close to an hour against 10 men and not to win is extremely disappointing, and conceding against them is even worse. In the context of the season the two points dropped is not the end of the world, but it is certainly a warning sign to Liverpool that they will need to step it up if they have a chance of beating the likes of Tottenham to a Champions League place.
-James Martin
Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Sunday, 6 October 2013

SAS Strike Again- Liverpool vs Crystal Palace

Yesterday (Saturday 5th October), Liverpool hosted Crystal Palace at Anfield. Palace sat 19th in the table, and Liverpool were certainly the favourites going into the game. They did not disappoint; the game was essentially over after 38 minutes, by which time Liverpool were 3-0 up. Palace got a consolation towards the end of the 2nd half, and the game finished 3-1.

As is becoming customary for Rodgers’ Liverpool, the hosts were quick out of the traps. They were all over Palace within minutes, and got their reward just 14 minutes in. Somewhat inevitably, it was scored by Luis Suarez, who since his return from suspension has reminded us why it’s so hard to hate him. After going to ground, he produced a wonderful piece of improvisation to somehow hit the ball in. In the lead-up to the goal he combined excellently with Jose Enrique. This is a sign that the 3-5-2 that Rodgers has used in the last couple of games is working well, as it allowed Enrique to play in a much more advanced role than if he were playing as an out-and-out full back. He should definitely stick with this formation, as the two striker positions allow the Suarez and Sturridge partnership to flourish.

Perhaps partly due to this, it was Sturridge who struck next, just three minutes after the first goal. Suarez’ goal was special, but Sturridge’s was arguably even better! He cleverly jinked past three players, before firing the ball past Julian Speroni from a tight angle. This put Liverpool in a dominant position in the game, but they did not sit back. Throughout the first half they continued to press Palace, and in the 38th minute they reaped their reward by adding a third. Raheem Sterling (in for the suspended Lucas) played a ball to Suarez, who cleverly tried to return the ball by dinking it over Dean Moxey and back into Sterling’s path. It would have come off beautifully, had Moxey not pulled Sterling back. The incident was adjudged by the referee to be inside the box (though it was dubious), and Gerrard converted the subsequent spot kick with ease, setting yet another club record by scoring in a 15th consecutive season.

Unfortunately, the 2nd half was (you guessed it) extremely underwhelming. AS has been the case in virtually all of our games this season, the players dropped the tempo significantly in the second period, and even invited some pressure from the visitors. Palace were able to create a couple of decent chances, and scored one in the 76th minute throughout Dwight Gayle. Though admittedly Liverpool never looked in danger of failing to win the game, in what is shaping up to be an extremely competitive Premier League season goal difference could be important come the end of the season. Had we not conceded in the second half, but instead come out and continued to be positive, we would now be top of the league instead of second, remaining behind Arsenal due to fewer goals scored. If we want to stay so high up in the league, we will need to up our game in the 2nd half. I’m frankly getting bored of writing this in my articles, so hopefully they’ll soon take the hint and step it up!

That said, we certainly can’t complain about the weekend as a whole. Everton’s unbeaten run finally came to an end, and more significantly West Brom held Arsenal to a 1-1 draw. The icing on the cake was West Ham’s rather improbable 3-0 thrashing of Tottenham! All in all, as the weekend draws to a close, I’m feeling very satisfied (in terms of football at any rate). Although the 2nd half performance was once again not up to scratch, at least we were able to get the win. Last season we had a tendency to only manage draws against ‘small’ teams, and this season teams like Spurs and Man City are proving vulnerable to weaker teams, so it is important to get the win. If we can keep this up, we’ll be a long way to securing that Champions League spot we all crave.
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Liverpool 0-1 Southampton: Post-Match Thoughts

After taking 10 points from their first four games and sitting pretty at the top of the Premier League, Liverpool had the right to go into this home game against Southampton feeling fairly confident. The Saints started the season relatively well, but if Liverpool had performed as they did in their first three games of the season, you can’t help but feel this game would have been a walk in the park. The fact is they didn’t play like that; they played awfully. Southampton’s drive and determination to win was contrasted by Liverpool’s lacklustre, uninspired performance, and consequently they flopped to a 1-0 home defeat.

If I was trying to be kind to Liverpool, I could say that nobody was entirely to blame. A perhaps more accurate way of looking at it would be to say that everybody was, to some degree, at fault. This includes Brendan Rodgers, who made some very odd selections. Despite Jose Enrique being fully fit, Rodgers opted to play Sakho, a centre-back by trade, at left-back. Kolo Toure, another central defender, was also played at full-back in the absence of Glen Johnson, meaning that Liverpool lined up at the start of the game with 4 centre-backs in defence. At first I thought this could be a shrewd tactical decision, as the sheer physicality of Agger, Skrtel, Sakho and Toure should have been enough to prevent Southampton from getting anywhere near our goal, but as it transpired they simply could not function properly out of position.

This was the first mistake; unfortunately it was followed by many more. Liverpool started the game relatively brightly, but right from the start seemed to be lacking the incisive edge that they have shown when on the attack in previous games this season. Steven Gerrard had a free kick saved well by Boruc, and Liverpool should blatantly have had a penalty when Lovren took out Sturridge in the box. Moses also looked relatively bright, but those were the only two real chances of note for Liverpool in the first half. This was partially down to the absence of Philippe Coutinho, who is normally so good at creating chances. Iago Aspas was played in the number 10 role for the first half, and he simply wasn’t good enough. His poor performance led to his replacement by Raheem Sterling after just 45 minutes.

If the first half was underwhelming, the second half was downright disgraceful. The attackers continued to fail in making chances, but now it was coupled with defensive sloppiness. Mignolet looked extremely uncertain whenever he received the ball from his defenders, and the defenders themselves kept tying themselves in knots by refusing to boot the ball clear. In attempt to retain possession by passing it around the back, the defence gifted Southampton many chances, and eventually a goal. Their refusal to clear the ball out of danger led to the conceding of a pointless corner, which Dejan Lovren subsequently scored from. Daniel Agger, who was meant to be marking him, got nowhere near the ball. Gerrard was also at fault: he was standing on the goal-line, and had he used his left foot he could have smashed the ball off the line, and away to safety. Instead he opted to use his favoured right foot, and consequently he was only able to hit the ball into the roof of his own net.

I hoped that this may prove the stimulus that Liverpool needed to kick on and start playing some decent attacking football. I was disappointed. Not only did the reds seem unable to create attacks, they also seemed unwilling. Their was no desire to push forward and try to equalise, and the team merely continued to pass the ball around in midfield, never really troubling the Southampton defence. To be fair, Sterling (who had replaced Aspas at half time) looked bright; he combined well with Sturridge on a couple of occasions to create the only half-chances Liverpool made throughout the second half.

I defend Liverpool whenever I can, but there is simply no denying that Southampton deserved the victory in this game. They pressed the ball, put pressure on our defence, and generally harried us into mistakes. In the end, they were rewarded. Liverpool were the polar opposite: their lack of desire and effort were what lost them the match. It was not the performance of a team that can finish in the top 4, and we will need to up our game hugely if we want to keep that ambition alive. Hopefully the return of Suarez next game will rejuvenate our side. Whatever his faults, nobody could accuse Luis Suarez of lacking passion and drive. If he slots back in well, I expect to see a huge upturn in performance in the League Cup against United, and subsequently in our league match against Sunderland.
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Swansea 2-2 Liverpool: Post-Match Analysis

Yesterday, Liverpool travelled to the Liberty Stadium in Wales to face Swansea City. Before the match they were 3rd, level on points with Arsenal and Tottenham. Any result better than a loss would put them back on top of the league. After Swansea’s poor start to the season and our strong one, most Liverpool fans were hoping for a 4th successive win, but it wasn’t to be. After a match jam-packed with action, the game finished 2-2.

It was the worst start Liverpool could have hoped for. After less than 2 minutes, Swansea managed to get in front. After completely mis-kicking the ball, ex-Liverpool player Jonjo Shelvey kept ploughing through the defence, unchallenged by anyone. Eventually, having run deep into the penalty area, he curled the ball past Simon Mignolet. Debutant Mamadou Sakho was the nearest to Shelvey just before he placed the ball in the net, but did not make a challenge, looking fearful of conceding a penalty. This is a problem the team as a whole need to work on- if the alternative is conceding and the ball is there to be won, you have to try and dispossess your opponent. It was a very scrappy goal to concede from Liverpool’s point of view; not a nice way to end the run of zero goals conceded in the season.

Liverpool were not behind for long though. Just 2 minutes later, they equalised! It doesn’t take a genius to guess who got Liverpool back on level terms- the man who has scored a goal in every Premier League game this season, Daniel Sturridge. Jonjo Shelvey was once again instrumental; though this time he wasn’t celebrating. He played a wayward pass which Sturridge picked off with ease. It was then a simple matter of slotting the ball past Vorm, which the Premier League joint top goal scorer was able to do with ease. Jokes about Shelvey forgetting that he’d left Liverpool have been hugely overused, so I won’t bore you with them, but it has to be said that it was an absolute gift of a goal. Still, it took a cool head from Sturridge to finish it off, and his ability to do so with apparent ease sums up why he is such an asset to us- we lacked a clinical, reliable finisher for a long time.

Liverpool pushed on from this, and were soon all over Swansea. They were dominating possession, and more importantly were creating some good chances. Debutant Victor Moses was playing especially well, showing some great skill and putting good balls into the box. Liverpool eventually got their reward, though it would be untrue to say that it came through pretty build-up play! It was, once again, put on a plate for Liverpool courtesy of Jonjo Shelvey. Another poor pass was picked off, this time by Moses, who fired it into the bottom corner, well beyond Vorm’s reach. The half ended without further incident, and Liverpool went into the break with a deserved 2-1 lead. It could well have been more, but Swansea had defended well (with the exception of Shelvey) and Vorm had made some great stops, including blocking a point-blank header from Sturridge.

In the second half, everything went downhill. Swansea came out on the front foot, and stayed there. The situation was not helped by the forced departure of Philippe Coutinho on 52 minutes, due to an injury caused by a foul challenge from Ashley Williams. The little Brazilian had been playing well, and his replacement, Aspas, never really got into the game. This raises more questions as to whether the Spaniard can cut it in the Premier League, but that’s another story (see my article on that here: Swansea looked a constant threat and, almost inevitably, they managed to equalise with just under 30 minutes to go. Shelvey was key in the scoring of the goal (surprise, surprise), heading it down perfectly for Michu to tuck home. Liverpool made no attempt to get back in front, and in all honesty were quite lucky not to concede again. Based on the game as a whole a draw was probably the fairest result, but Liverpool were simply outplayed in the 2nd half.

To sum up, the result in itself is nothing to complain about, but Liverpool’s second half performance is worrying. They have looked weaker in the second period than the first in all of the games so far this season, and it leaves us vulnerable. At the moment nobody has read too much into it, as the results are going our way and we are top of the league, but if we want to maintain a genuine challenge for 4th or higher then we will have to start sustaining performance for the full 90 minutes. If our team had better stamina then they would have beaten Swansea, and come the end of the season 2 points may be all that separates us and the Champions League. Even though this result is acceptable in isolation, its wider implications are not good. We cannot have many more games like this. The harsh truth is, if we want to become one of the ‘big’ Premier League teams again, we’re going to have to start playing like one for the full 90 minutes.
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Iago Aspas- Early Impressions

Iago Aspas was brought to Liverpool early this summer, along with Simon Mignolet, Kolo Toure and Luis Alberto. He was arguably the most exciting of this new crop of players, as he was a creative forward who, from Brendan Rodgers’ comments, seemed to be destined for regular first team action. As such, there was a lot of hype about him, and his excellent pre-season only served to increase that. Unfortunately, in the first three games this season, he has been unable to make much of an impression. Will he be able to overcome this blip in form, and if so what sort of impact will he be able to have on our season?

There is no real question that Iago Aspas is a good footballer. He proved that at Celta Vigo, where he scored or assisted more than half of the team’s goals throughout the course of the season. In our pre-season matches he also showed some quality, and was able to continue his good run of goals and assists. The fact that he has been unable to replicate this form (which has, up to now, been so consistent) in the Premier League is slightly concerning. In pre-season we faced opposition of a much lower calibre than that which we are up against in the Premier League, and in La Liga Aspas was in a much less physical environment. If it is the physicality that Aspas is having a problem with, then in time he will be able to adapt to it, and there is no need to be too worried about his relatively poor Premier League performances so far. If, on the other hand, it is the step-up in opposition quality that Aspas is struggling with, then there is a real problem.

But which is it? It seems most likely that Aspas’ lacklustre performances so far have been caused by the vast difference between La Liga and the Premier League. After all, it is not as if there is no quality in the top flight of Spanish football. Indeed, Aspas was able to get an assist against arguably the best team in the world last season, Barcelona. If the issue was that the Premier League was simply too good for Aspas to cope with, we would surely have seen the same ineffectiveness that he has shown thus far in the Premier League at Celta, when he came up against the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona. As this was not the case, the logical conclusion is that he has simply been a little overwhelmed by the new league he has found himself in. One aspect he appears to be struggling with is the physicality- he has been dispossessed on a regular basis. Also, there is the sheer pace of the games. Aspas has looked a little lost at times, unable to keep up with the game and get himself in sensible positions. Against United in particular, there were many times where he stayed rooted to the spot, when he should have been making a run.

This should soon be ironed out of him. If he gets a reasonable amount of game time (and so far, Rodgers has looked set to give him that), he will almost certainly be able to re-find the form that made him such an asset to Celta Vigo. If and when this happens, his impact on Liverpool will be very positive. So far we’ve won all our games, and deservedly so, but we have only managed to score 1 goal in all of them. So long as our defence remains as solid as it has been thus far, this is not a problem, but it would be good to have some margin for error. Aspas will hopefully be able to provide us with this, by feeding balls in to Daniel Sturridge from a wide position. Aspas knows how to beat a man, cut inside and deliver a killer ball: he was renowned for it at Celta. This is bound to have a positive impact on Sturridge, as the more chances he is provided with, the more goals he’ll score!

There is, however, a risk that Aspas will not get the game time he so clearly requires to become a valuable asset to us. The signing of Victor Moses on a one-year loan deal suggests that Rodgers was not entirely happy with out options in the wide midfield areas. As well as this, Suarez is returning soon (his 10-match ban is nearing an end). With these two available, there is a possibility that Aspas will struggle to make the starting 11 on a regular basis, as both Moses and Suarez are perfectly capable of functioning in the wide forward role which Aspas naturally occupies. He is unlikely to be played out of position either, as Sturridge is in form and therefore unlikely to be replaced as the lone striker, and Coutinho, though he hasn’t been brilliant so far this season, is the natural choice in the central attacking midfield role. If this is the case, Aspas will struggle to even come close to regaining the form he had in La Liga, as he won’t be able to properly adapt to English football.

To sum up, if he is given a lot of game time, I am confident that Aspas will soon find the form that had fans so excited in pre-season. His unerring ability to beat a man on the wing then cut inside and deliver to a forward could be very valuable to our team, and as such we should be making every effort to ensure he settles in quickly.
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Top of the League? You’re having a laugh….

Finally. After three consecutive 2-1 defeats at the hands of our bitter rivals Manchester United, we have beaten them. Admittedly United were nowhere near their form of last season (blame Moyes for that one- they look a different side now Ferguson has left), but Liverpool still had to work hard and play well to secure the victory. The win saw us go top of the league, having secured maximum points from our opening three games. Due to this, and to the excellent football we are producing, optimism amongst fans is high, but how far up the league can we realistically expect Liverpool to finish this season?

Most non-LFC fans seem to think that Liverpool have an outside chance of snatching 4th, but that is the highest we could possibly hope for. Theoretically, this makes some sense. After all, player for player, there is no questioning that Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham have stronger squads than ours. In a game of Top Trumps, Liverpool’s players would surely lose out to these clubs (and debatably to United and Arsenal as well), unless you have the luck to draw Coutinho from your deck when your opponent possesses the Milner card. The fact is, having not been in the Champions League since 2009/10, we haven’t been able to attract the top players for some time now, and as such our squad, on paper at least, simply is not as strong as those of our direct rivals.

However, though it is a cliché, the game is not played on paper. If all of Tottenham’s new players were immediately able to gel with each other and with the rest of the team, then they could most certainly challenge for the title. As it is, they needed to rely on debatable penalty decisions to win them their games against Crystal Palace and Swansea, and today lost 1-0 to Arsenal, because the team are not performing well as a group. Liverpool, on the other hand, have looked like a very tightly-knit unit this season. Their chemistry on and off the pitch has been wonderful; I don’t recall ever seeing a Liverpool team more in tune with one another. This is, in part, down to the relatively small amount of change the club has undergone in the down-season in comparison with the big clubs around us. Out of the top 7 from last season, only Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham have retained the same managers. As such, until all the other teams are able to settle down and adapt to their new managers (or, in Spurs’ case, adapt to fit in a whole host of new players), Liverpool may well have the edge over them.

Saying this, doing business in the transfer market is by no means a bad thing. It is simply that there needs to be a balance. Spurs have brought in too many players for their starting 11 at once to be able to get results in the short term, but as the season progresses they will most likely become a force to be reckoned with. Arsenal, on the other hand, though not destabilised by change, are being left behind in terms of squad depth by not signing anyone (unless you count free transfers Flamini and Sanogo). Indeed, their lack of depth is already troubling them, as they have been plagued by injuries to multiple players recently.  Liverpool have struck a happy medium, in that they have brought in a couple of players who have made it immediately to the first team, some others to bulk out the squad in case of injury, and some young talents who have potential to make it to the first team in the future. The immediate changes to the starting XI are not so drastic that they throw us off course; they only serve to strengthen us.  As we are the only club from last season’s top 7 to achieve that fine balance, except perhaps Chelsea, we most certainly have the upper hand on our rivals.

So, bearing all of that in mind, where do I think we can finish? Chelsea suffer the least out of the clubs that have made managerial changes, as Mourinho has been at the club before and knows how things work. Most of the players already know him and his style, so there is little adaptation to do. They have also done good business in the transfer market: players such as Willian and Samuel Eto’o are likely to start on a fairly regular basis, whilst Van Ginkel and Atsu are great squad players. Due to this, I don’t think we can realistically hope to finish above Chelsea. Manchester City are another we will struggle to overcome, as despite the vast amount of money spent at the club this summer, the emphasis has been on quality rather than quantity. Though they have a new manager, it would be a tall order to compete with the sheer quality and depth that City possess. Other than that, I don’t think there is any team in the Premier League that Liverpool cannot hope to finish above. Arsenal have not made anywhere near enough additions to their squad, Tottenham are still reeling after undergoing a squad overhaul, and Manchester United’s squad, which wasn’t that strong in the first place, is now under the guidance of a new manager: this is already taking its toll on them, as they have only managed 4 points from their first 3 games.

In conclusion, Chelsea and Manchester City are a cut above the rest, and barring too many more slip-ups against clubs such as Cardiff they should be expected to occupy the top two slots come the end of the season. From 3rd to 6th there is  very little in it, and Liverpool, if all goes well, will be able to capitalise on the shaky starts their rivals are having and take 3rd place. It’s optimistic, but it’s also realistic. Let’s hope they can continue their excellent start to the season, and go on to achieve what they are capable of.
-James Martin
Follow me @JamesMartin013

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

2013/14- A New Dawn?

Two games into the new season, Liverpool are looking very good. They have played some excellent attacking football in both matches, as well as looking strong defensively (not conceding in either game). Most importantly, though, they have won both of the matches, meaning they already have 6 points on the board. This contrasts hugely to the way we have become accustomed to Liverpool starting a campaign; the win against Stoke marked the first time we had won an opening game in the Premier League since 2008 (in a season which saw us finish 2nd). Does this turn-around in early season form mark a new dawn for LFC?

Firstly, it is worth noting that Liverpool’s two opening games have both been against relatively poor opposition. Both of the sides they have faced thus far in the Premier League, Stoke and Aston Villa, finished well within the bottom half of the table last season. In truth, most fans, quite understandably, would expect nothing less than a victory against clubs such as these.

Saying this, it is not as if our first two fixtures didn’t pose any challenges. Stoke have proved time after time that they are hard to break down defensively, so to be able to find a way past them in our first competitive game since May 19th was no mean feat. Villa posed an even greater challenge. In their opening game they caused an upset against Arsenal, coming out 3-1 victors. They also netted against Chelsea, though they ended up being narrowly defeated by 2 goals to 1. Their star man Benteke scored in both of these fixtures, and Liverpool’s defence, as well as new goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, had to be on top of their games to deny him yet another goal. Add to this the fact that the quality of opposition hasn’t made much difference to our results in previous opening-day matches (one simply has to look at the 3-0 humiliation at the hands of West Brom last year to see that), and it could be said that the odds, if anything, were against Liverpool!

It is clear then that Liverpool’s opening two games were by no means easy to win. However, it is not just the victories that make me, as a fan, so excited; it is the manner of the victories. In both games, Liverpool got off to quick starts, swiftly getting the upper hand. They were able to dominate for large portions of the game, and played some lovely football during these periods. This in itself is not much different from last season, but what has changed is our ability to put the ball in the net! Countless times last year we were all over a game but somehow failed to score, and thus missed out on the victory. In contrast, in our opening two games this year, we have succeeded in getting that crucial goal, and getting it early on. This is largely thanks to Daniel Sturridge, who is in exquisite goal-scoring form. He has provided the goals in both of our games this season, and has certainly looked capable of providing more in future. If he can keep this up, and the team can keep providing him with the service he needs, we will have a much better chance of finishing in the top 4 than we have had for a long time, as the sort of games which ended in draws last season we should be able to turn into victories during this campaign.

That said, there are some negatives I took from our two opening games. The main problem was the way we seemed to fade towards the end of the halves. We were able to keep well on top of our opposition until roughly 5 minutes before the end of each half, and then suddenly seemed to lose all of our momentum. We were pushed right on to the back foot, and forced to rely heavily upon our defence and keeper. This happened against both Stoke and Villa, and resulted in some nervy moments towards the end of the games. Though it didn’t prove costly, it may well do against stronger opposition. If we are to stand a chance of beating United on Sunday, we cannot invite large amounts of pressure from them at any point in the match, as, with the quality they have in their attack, they will be bound to punish us.

To sum up, I have been extremely heartened by our first two games, as Liverpool have shown that they are indeed embarking upon a new dawn. Unlike in the past, they have been able to start the season on the front foot, by beating teams who have in previous seasons proved frustratingly hard for us to score against. Despite this, there is still a long way to go for Liverpool, and before they can genuinely pose a threat to Arsenal, Tottenham and maybe even (in the long run) the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City, they will have to learn to sustain a high level of performance for the full 90 minutes. Here’s hoping that they can do that, and that they can continue their winning start to the season against United next week.
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Liverpool vs Stoke- Pre-Match Analysis

At last. After a long summer of waiting, the time is finally upon us. At 12:45 on Saturday, Liverpool will get the 2013/14 Premier League season underway. They entertain Stoke at Anfield in their opening fixture, and most fans will be expecting a win.

When one takes a good look at Stoke, it is clear why the weight of expectation is with Liverpool. Stoke have appointed a new manager since the end of last season, replacing Tony Pulis with Mark Hughes. Admittedly they have had the whole of pre-season to adapt to his style of play, but it is clear from the poor start Liverpool made last year under the then newly appointed Brendan Rodgers that often, more than just a couple of months and a handful of games is needed. On top of this, their activity in the transfer market has hardly been inspiring. They have brought in two new players on free transfers, signed full-back Eric Pieters from PSV for just over 3million pounds, and bought Maurice Edu from Bursaspor for an undisclosed fee. None of these signings are bad in themselves, though I doubt that any of them will be setting the Premier League alight this season! Man for man, the Liverpool squad is (on paper at least) far superior.

However, Stoke’s pre-season has been relatively successful. They have played 5, winning 3, drawing 1 and losing 1. The key figure, however, is that they kept clean sheets in all of their last four matches. Towards the end of last season they were not as solid at the back as they had been, but it seems that they may have re-found their defensive form. Admittedly the games they have played were against relatively weak opposition, Genoa being the pick of their opponents, but the signs, for them, are promising.
Add to this the fact that Liverpool are renowned for their slow starts to the season (they have failed to win an opening day fixture since the 2008/09 season, which was incidentally the last time they qualified for the Champions League), and the fact that, as we saw against Celtic, we have a tendency to dominate a game and yet still fail to score, and our victory is not as secure as one might think at first glance.

Saying this, I do still think that Liverpool will manage to win the game. The Celtic game was the only match which we failed to score in, and our overall pre-season form in front of goal has been exceptional. Coutinho has continued to shine, scoring and assisting with apparent ease. Raheem Sterling has also proven himself to be ready for another run with the first team, playing some dazzling football in pre-season as well as scoring prolifically. He continued his goal-scoring form on international duty, scoring for the England U21’s against Scotland. New signing Iago Aspas has also looked threatening in front of goal, and Jordan Henderson, Steven Gerrard, Luis Alberto, Joe Allen and Jordan Ibe have also been on target for Liverpool. Daniel Sturridge also scored twice in a behind-closed-doors game against Newcastle. The fact that there are now so many potential goal-scorers in the team gives Brendan Rodgers the option to change things around if we are failing to score, which I think will be the difference from last season.

This is how I think the team will line up:  

                                                       Created using @footy_formation

 Before the transfer window closes I would ideally like to sign another centre-back for the first team, although to be fair Toure has impressed me a lot in pre-season. He will certainly be adequate to deal with Stoke’s mediocre attack. Aspas could play as a right forward in place of Sterling, but I think Stoke will find it very hard to cope with Sterling’s trickery and on-the-ball skill. If we are failing to score, I would expect Rodgers to replace Sturridge, who isn't fully match fit yet anyway, for Aspas. Joe Allen may also come on for either Lucas or Gerrard, as he has done very well in pre-season, and has shown himself to be good going forward as well as dictating the play from a central position.

To sum up, it would be a mistake to underestimate Stoke, who, though they don’t have the most inspiring squad, are solid at the back. However, I think that, unlike last season, we now have enough attacking options to find a way through the Stoke defence, and get our season off to a winning start.
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Sturridge- Can he force his way back in?

Liverpool signed Daniel Sturridge from Chelsea in the January transfer window, and the striker had an immediate impact. He scored 10 goals in just 14 games, and was hailed by many as the clinical striker we needed. He was so successful that he earned himself a call-up to the national side. Unfortunately, in a game for England against the Republic of Ireland, he injured his ankle, meaning he was forced to miss Liverpool’s pre-season tour. However, this didn’t seem to hinder Liverpool in the slightest, as they managed to score 13 goals in their first 5 pre-season fixtures, conceding none. The team gelled extremely well together, and a combination of Coutinho, Sterling, Aspas and Gerrard proved deadly in front of goal. The question is, now Sturridge has returned to full training, will he be able to win his place in the team back?

At the end of the 2012/13 season, it would have been unthinkable that, come the start of the new season, Sturridge’s place in the first team would be in question. His performances for Liverpool produced a lot of goals, and he was one of the stand-out players in the second half of the campaign. However, there are question marks over his consistency. Despite his impressive average of a goal every 0.71 games, he failed to net in half of his Premier League games for Liverpool. This shows that his goals came in bursts. In some games, he simply failed to perform, and consequently Liverpool struggled. Now, with the arrival of Iago Aspas, Liverpool’s attacking players are scoring seamlessly (though admittedly against relatively weak opposition), and consistency would not appear to be an issue, as the reds have netted at least two in every pre-season game thus far. Daniel Sturridge was brought in because we needed goals; now, even without him, we are scoring regularly.

Saying this, it is likely that Sturridge will make it to the starting 11 come the first game against Stoke. Regardless of the fact that Liverpool have been scoring in pre-season without him, Sturridge’s performances last season justify his place in the team. What is different from last year is that Sturridge is no longer a necessity. If he fails to perform, pre-season has shown Rodgers can drop him, and still have a team that are able to play some beautiful football that results in goals. Consequently, the pressure on Sturridge to be quick off the mark is huge. Last season, Liverpool’s only other attacking option was the injury-ridden, underperforming Fabio Borini, meaning Sturridge was essentially guaranteed first team football. This year, if he is unable to perform right from the start of the season, his place in the first team is at serious risk.

This could have one of two effects. It could spur him on to perform at his very best, which would be the best case scenario for Liverpool. We saw in multiple games last season (such as against Fulham and Newcastle) that Sturridge at his best is an absolute nightmare for defenders, and a very potent goal threat. The fact that he is, in essence, playing for his position in the team every game, may well inspire him to put in his best possible performances week in, week out. This would be brilliant, as it would cover over the only major chink in Sturridge’s armour, his consistency issues. If Liverpool can get Sturridge playing to his full potential all season, then their chances of breaking back into the top 4 are greatly increased.

On the other hand, the pressure could ‘get to him’. By signing Iago Aspas, who is already proving himself to be a very good attacker, Brendan Rodgers has dramatically raised the stakes for Daniel Sturridge. In doing this, he has potentially executed a masterstroke, but he has also taken a considerable risk. If Sturridge is unable to handle the pressure of constantly having to fight to stay in the first team, there is a significant danger that his performances will become lacklustre. Although Liverpool will be able to cope if this happens (as we have seen in pre-season), it would be tragic to waste a talent like Sturridge.

To sum up, although the likes of Jordan Ibe, Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho, Steven Gerrard and new signing Iago Aspas have all proved that they can combine well to get lots of goals this pre-season, it is extremely unlikely that Daniel Sturridge will have been robbed of his place come the start of the season. However, he will have to be on top of his game right from the word go if he wants to retain his place, as Rodgers has given Liverpool an attacking depth that they have been clearly lacking for the past few seasons. If he is able to find his form straight away, Liverpool could be in for a very successful season.
-James Martin
Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013