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