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