Sunday, 28 April 2013

Newcastle 0-6 Liverpool- Post-Match Analysis

Star Players- Coutinho, Sturridge and
Henderson celebrating

On Saturday 27th April, Liverpool faced Newcastle at St James’ Park. Many thought Liverpool would struggle to score goals with the prolific striker Luis Suarez serving the first match of his 10-game suspension, but they smashed six past a lacklustre Newcastle side.

Right from the kick-off, Liverpool looked the stronger side. They got on the attack straight away, and took the lead after just three minutes. Newcastle failed to get the ball away, and Downing was able to play a nice cross into Agger, who headed simply past Elliot, the Newcastle goalkeeper. They continued to press, and made it two on 17 minutes. Coutinho played a glorious long pass into Sturridge, who put it on a plate for Jordan Henderson to tap home. It could have been 3 or 4 before half-time, but the keeper made some decent stops and Liverpool wasted a few opportunities. The hosts didn’t get into the half at all, and their only clear-cut chance was missed by James Perch, who headed wide from close range.

The second half started in much the same way as the first.  Liverpool dominated Newcastle, playing some lovely attacking football. In the 54th minute they went three up, Coutinho brilliantly setting up Sturridge, who drilled it home. The little Brazilian dispossessed Hatem Ben Arfa, knocking him off the ball, then darted down the wing before chipping the ball sublimely into the path of Sturridge. The finish was also good, Sturridge smashing the ball past Elliot into the roof of the net. Six minutes later he scored again, Henderson returning the first half favour by squaring the ball across goal to Sturridge, who took a touch and tapped it in coolly.

At 4-0 you would have been forgiven for thinking Liverpool might ease up a bit, but that was not the case! In the 72nd minute Fabio Borini came on for Steven Gerrard (ending the skippers run of playing every minute of Premier League football this season), and a minute later added his name to the score-sheet. Downing showed quick feet to beat his man and get a low cross in, which Borini then hit home. It was a nice finish from the Italian, who had to adjust quickly to slot the ball in the back of the net. Things got even worse for Newcastle soon afterwards, when Coutinho beat Debuchy with yet another clever piece of skill, who then dived in rashly and picked up a second yellow card. This means he will miss the remainder of the season. Henderson took the free kick, and whipped in a cross. Nobody got on the end of it, but it curled all the way into the far corner! Liverpool had a couple more chances after this, but the game ended 6-0.

Although Newcastle did not play well, Liverpool exhibited some wonderful football in this game. It was a clear message to critics that we are not just a one-man team, and we can still get great results without Suarez. It also gives fans a lot of hope for the remaining 9 games of Suarez’ suspension, as we showed yesterday that we can win, and win well, without him. It was a fantastic team performance all round, but there are also some individuals I would like to mention. Daniel Sturridge once again showed himself to be a great signing, getting two goals and turning provider for another. Jordan Henderson showed how much he has grown as a player under Rodgers, also scoring two and assisting one. Stuart Downing, who is often criticised, also had a great game, assisting two of the goals. However, the man of the match for me has to be Coutinho. He showed his sublime dribbling skills, and played some frankly phenomenal passes. He even made a tackle or two! He looks like he could be the bargain of the century at only £8million, and at just 20 years of age he can only get better.

To sum up, this game is just what Liverpool needed in the first of the 10 games Suarez is missing. It gave the fans (and indeed the players) the confidence they sorely needed that we can get wins without our star striker, and that we are not a one-man team. To see Liverpool at their best is always a great spectacle, and this performance bodes very well for next season.
-James Martin
Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Luis Suarez receives 10-match ban

Today (Wednesday 24th April), the FA ruled that Liverpool’s Luis Suarez would be given a ban of 10 games for biting Chelsea defender Bransilav Ivanovic. This means he will miss the remainder of this season, and the first six games of the 2013/14 season.

There is some debate as to whether or not this ban is fair. There is universal agreement that Suarez deserved a ban, but the length is controversial. Some feel that 10 games is fair, as it is the second charge of biting that Suarez has faced (he was banned for seven games for biting a PSV player during his time at Ajax), and an example needs to be made to younger players. Others argue that the precedent of a 7-game ban for biting has been set, and therefore that should again be the length of his ban. Still others say that Suarez’s bite was violent conduct, and as the FA’s own legislation states that a retrospective ban for violent conduct is 3 games, that is how long Suarez should be suspended for.

It is hard to say what the right decision is, as an incident of this nature has never really occurred in the Premier League. The only similar example would be the Jermaine Defoe bite on Javier Mascherano in 2006, which the FA took no action on as the referee had ‘seen the incident and dealt with it’. It is therefore hard to draw comparisons between the two incidents, but seeing as the FA felt no need to change their own rules in order to punish Defoe’s bite, it would seem a little harsh that they gave Suarez a ban so much larger than their regular ban for violent conduct.

Either way, the fact is he is out for 10 games. This will have a huge effect on Liverpool, who will have to start their 2013/14 campaign without their star striker. It also means that Suarez, who was in contention for the golden boot, can no longer win it, as Robin Van Persie now has a higher goal tally than he does (thanks to his hat-trick against Aston Villa). The only silver lining for Liverpool fans is that the ban greatly improves their chances of being able to hold on to Suarez over the summer. Although the 10-match ban was imposed on Suarez by the English Football Association, the ban would still apply if he transferred abroad, as we saw with Joey Barton’s move to Marseille last year. A lot of big clubs who may have been tempted to buy Suarez will not like the fact that they will not be able to play him for six games, and they will probably also be put off buying him due to the controversy he seems to take with him wherever he goes.

The ban is one of the longest ever imposed by the FA, and many people are unhappy, claiming that they are biased against Luis Suarez. However, he did bite someone, and that is a serious offence. In any case, the loss of Suarez for 10 matches will come as a huge blow to the player and to the club, and Liverpool will find it hard to break their woeful first day of the season record (the last time they won their first game was in 2008, a 1-0 win against Sunderland) next season without their star striker.

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Sunday, 21 April 2013

Liverpool vs Chelsea: Tension, Controversy and The Return of Rafa

On Sunday 21st April, Liverpool faced Chelsea at Anfield. This meant returns for former Reds manager Rafa Benitez and ex-Liverpool striker Fernando Torres. The game was extremely tight, and in the end Liverpool snatched a draw in dramatic fashion through a Luis Suarez goal in the 97th minute.

Liverpool were the brighter side in the early stages, with Glen Johnson having the pick of the chances. Suarez flicked the ball through to him nicely, leaving the full-back clean through on Cech, but he could only poke the ball wide. However, it was Chelsea who opened the scoring, through an Oscar header. Juan Mata’s corner was not dealt with, and Oscar drifted away from Daniel Agger and headed powerfully past Reina. Just five minutes later Reina very nearly spilt a David Luiz free-kick, just snatching the ball before it could cross the line. After this the game died down, and there weren’t any meaningful chances for the rest of the half.

In my opinion, the turning point game at the start of the second half, with the introduction of Sturridge. Within seconds of coming on he combined beautifully with Suarez, coming very close to scoring. Minutes later, his long-range effort evaded Cech, but he was denied a goal by the post. He soon got his goal though, after a beautiful pass from Suarez picked him out in the box. From there it was a simple matter of tucking the ball into the corner from close range. That made it 1-1, and it was game on again.

Both sides were attacking hard after Sturridge’s goal, striving to get ahead. In the end Chelsea were once again able to pull ahead, but in controversial fashion. Again the problems came from a Chelsea corner. Suarez was marking Torres, and raised his arm as the ball came in. There is no question that he handled it, but Torres, the former prolific Liverpool striker, appeared to  have a hold on him. Nonetheless the penalty was given, and after a lengthy delay Hazard coolly dispatched the penalty, sending Pepe Reina the wrong way.

From then on it was all Liverpool. Suarez had a great chance with a free kick just outside the box, which he put wide. He also tested Cech at the near post with a powerful drive. As if he didn’t have enough controversy surrounding him already, Suarez then did something utterly mad. He is unquestionably one of the world’s greatest talents, but he does do some stupid things, and this time he is, in my opinion, totally without defence. He was trying to burst into the Chelsea area, but didn’t get the pass he was looking for. Then, presumably out of pure frustration, he actually bit the arm of Branislav Ivanovic. It went un-noticed by the referee or his assistants, but it was clearly captured by the TV cameras. This isn’t even the first time he has bitten a player. During his time at Ajax, he was banned for seven games for biting a PSV player. It was absolutely disgraceful behaviour, and it is things like this which cast a shadow over his unquestionable footballing brilliance.

Despite the controversy, the game went on, and continued to be an absolute thriller. Liverpool were still not managing to break through the Chelsea defence, and in a desperate act to change things Rodgers brought Downing off for Jonjo Shelvey. I know there are many Shelvey fans out there, but frankly I don’t get it. He takes ridiculously optimistic long shots, is extremely clumsy and never seems to pass. I personally think that taking off Downing, one of our better players in the game, was a bad decision. In the end though it didn’t matter, because in the dying seconds Suarez showed his good side. Six minutes were added n by the 4th official, and it looked like time had run out for Liverpool when Chelsea got the ball clear on 95:54. However, the referee didn’t blow his whistle, and thirty seconds after the allotted six extra minutes Luis Suarez got on the end of a Daniel Sturridge cross, heading the ball past a diving Petr Cech. Chelsea barely had time to kick off again before the final whistle went, and the game ended 2-2.

Were it not for the Suarez biting incident, this game would have been a prime example of football as it should be. Both sides played some lovely attacking football, and there was tension and drama right to the end. However, the match had a shadow cast over it by Suarez’ inexplicable actions. He will surely incur a ban for biting Ivanovic, which in my opinion he completely deserves. On the whole though, a thoroughly enjoyable game where a draw was probably a fair result.
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Sunday, 14 April 2013

Reading vs Liverpool- “The Ball Didn’t Want To Get In”

I have entitled my blog with a Luis Suarez quote. He tweeted this after the game, and I think that just about sums it up perfectly. Liverpool dominated the game, but a combination of bad luck and an inspired goalkeeping performance from McCarthy meant we had to settle for a point.

Right from the start of the game, Liverpool were dominating possession. Reading were giving them a lot of time on the ball, and they were using it well. On 14 minutes Suarez’s beautiful chip was cleared off the line by Chris Gunter. The move leading up to the chance was fantastic, with Coutinho, Henderson and Sturridge (back in the starting line-up for this game) combining well. This was the first clear-cut chance of the game, but a whole host of others followed. Coutinho worked the keeper from outside the box on 22 minutes, forcing a corner. From the subsequent set piece, Carragher of all people came close, heading just over. Suarez then had a shot saved well on 34 minutes, and Gerrard’s follow-up was blocked. On the stroke of half time McCarthy denied Liverpool again, this time blocking a close-range shot from Daniel Sturridge.

The game continued like this in the second half. Liverpool were on the attack straight away, and Coutinho put the ball in the net with a sublime flick on 48 minutes, however it was unfortunately disallowed for offside. After this there was a bit of a lull, with Reading actually creating a couple of decent chances themselves. Reina stayed alert despite having very little to do, and made two very good saves.

With 10 minutes to go Liverpool went on the attack again, bombarding Reading’s goal more than ever. Suarez tested McCarthy on 82 minutes, but the shot was tame. Downing just missed the target in the 84th minute, and then McCarthy made two brilliant stops in the 85th, denying both Gerrard and Suarez. Two minutes into added time Suarez forced McCarthy into yet another sensational stop, and in the last minute of stoppage time he was tested once more, being forced to save Gerrard’s deflected drive.

Liverpool had an impressive 60.2% of possession, completing 503 passes in total. Their passing accuracy was 77.5%. Including blocked shots, they had a staggering 28 attempts on target! Reading only managed two shots on target in the game, both of which Reina save comfortably. Liverpool had 11, 10 of which were saved, 1 of which was cleared off the line. These stats don’t do justice to just how dominant Liverpool were, but at the end of the day you have to give McCarthy credit for his exceptional performance. He earned his team a point which could be important in their battle for survival, and in all honesty I think they deserved to draw based purely upon the excellent game he had. Although I’m obviously disappointed, I don’t begrudge Reading the point that they fought so hard for.

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Monday, 1 April 2013

Villa vs Liverpool- Post-Match Thoughts

On Easter Sunday, Liverpool faced Aston Villa in the Premier League. With Liverpool fighting for a Europa League place and Villa in a battle to avoid relegation, this wan an important game for both clubs. Despite being a goal down at half-time, Liverpool emerged as victors, winning 2-1.

Liverpool started the game brightly. Suarez came very close early on, and it looked as if we might be able to get an early goal, something we have been doing a lot in recent games. Our quick starts are a very good feature of our play. However, after about 10 minutes, we started to drop back a little, and Villa capitalised. Soon they were the ones looking the more likely to score, which midway through the first half they did, through prolific scorer Christian Benteke. Liverpool did step up the pressure again towards the end of the first half, but they couldn’t equalise.

They came out very strongly in the second half, and very quickly got back on level terms with Villa. A brilliant ball from Coutinho (who now has 2 goals and 3 assists in just 5 games) put Henderson through, who delicately chipped the ball past the oncoming keeper to level the scores.

From then on Liverpool had the lions share of the chances, and were certainly playing the better football. Glen Johnson came agonisingly close to putting Liverpool ahead when his shot rebounded off the post, and Suarez made a lot of chances. Eventually the second goal came for Liverpool. Suarez used his sublime skill to nutmeg Nathan Baker (who up to this point had been having a brilliant game), who then blatantly brought him down. A penalty was given, and Steven Gerrard converted the spot kick coolly, putting Liverpool ahead.

There were some nervy moments near the end, with Benteke having one goal disallowed for offside (correctly) and Gerrard making a stunning off-the-line clearance from a Benteke header. However, Liverpool held on for the win, and earned a good three points.

One thing I was surprised about was the fact that Daniel Sturridge didn’t feature. He has proved very effective when he has played for us, and at times in the game we seemed to lack ideas in attack (an example would be Suarez’s ridiculous shot from 45 yards out!) but he wasn’t brought on. I think he needs game time in order to fully gel with the rest of the team, because I think he has huge potential at this club. In the end though it didn’t matter, and the victory was heartening as it showed we can still win even when we are not at our best.

-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013