Saturday, 21 November 2015

Manchester City 1-4 Liverpool: Post-Match Thoughts

Today, Liverpool finally showed what fans have been desperate to see since August. When Firmino joined our ranks in the summer there was great excitement – a creative midfielder renowned for perfectly timed runs and a good end product, the yang to Coutinho’s yin. However, until now, this dream of a perfectly balanced Brazilian partnership has been hampered by the poor form of Coutinho and a series of knocks and niggles suffered by Firmino. Against Manchester City, however, it all clicked into place. The two of them ran the show, particularly in the first half; a dazed City defence couldn’t handle the passing and movement of the skilled pair, and were three behind within half an hour. Firmino bagged a goal and two assists, and would have had a hattrick had it not been for the excellent performance of Joe Hart; Coutinho also clocked up a goal and assist. A moment of magic from Aguero following some shambolic defending temporarily put a slight dampener on proceedings, but the party mood was very much revived by a fearsome half-volley from Martin Skrtel of all people.

I was trying to think of a way to work it subtly into the article, but I think I’m just going to come out and say it – I’m feeling quite smug right now. I have consistently defended Firmino against those who have written him off ridiculously early, and I even brought him into my fantasy team recently: I was confident that he could deliver for us, and today he gave us a taste of what he can bring to our team. He was definitely man of the match for me – no mean feat on a day when every single player put in a good shift – and everything good we produced seemed to involve him in one way or another. His link-up with Coutinho was especially impressive: the second goal in particular saw them combine exquisitely, with Firmino slotting a pinpoint ball through to his compatriot who finished coolly. Considering his limited game time up to now, this partnership was particularly impressive – he seems to naturally gel in our team. Indeed, he played well with everyone: he and Emre Can had some nice interplay on multiple occasions, for example. Can’s performance is definitely worthy of note – he pushed forwards a lot, and fulfilled the role of playmaker excellently. He pulled off two or three perfect backheels that bamboozled the defence, one of which led to the third goal. Again, this was extremely pleasing to see: his form has been a little underwhelming so far this campaign and it was great to see him step up for the big occasion.

The feeling of smugness doesn’t just apply to me: the club as a whole must be feeling very pleased with themselves regarding the Raheem Sterling deal. The young Englishman was woefully ineffectual against us, with the highlight being his failure to convert from six yards out. This was made all the more enjoyable by the fact that Firmino, who we bought using some of the Sterling money, was bossing the game – of course we should remember that Sterling is younger, but for today at least it was hugely satisfying to watch our former starlet get so comprehensively outshone. Questions were asked about our investments this summer, but the two big-money signings have not disappointed so far: Benteke, while frustrating to watch at times, has netted four goals, and as already documented Firmino has recently exploded on to the first team scene. Jurgen Klopp, who is a joy to watch in press conferences and on the sidelines during matches, is getting the best out of all of the players: this comprehensive win against arguably the best side in the league demonstrates that under his leadership we have the potential to do big things.

That said, tempting as it is to ride on the wave of euphoria from today and ignore all negatives, expectations should be tempered. Klopp said it himself when he joined – getting Liverpool back to the top will take time. Yes, we’ve humiliated City in their own back yard this week, but our last game was a defeat at home to Crystal Palace. The German has already mastered counter-attacking tactics for away games, but at home we continue to struggle. Our attack is regularly left frustrated, unable to pick apart packed defences, and our own back line lets us down when teams break against us. Sakho’s absence will only accentuate this problem; I am confident that we’ll do a good job with what we have up to January, but there’s no hiding the fact that a new central defender (or two) is ultimately required. Our target now has to be to remain in contention until the next transfer window – if we achieve this, we can strengthen further and then kick on for at least a top four spot. A few more results like this one and that shouldn’t be a problem. This was the most enjoyable Liverpool match for some time: long may it continue. Vamos Brasil!
-James Martin
Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Monday, 26 October 2015

Liverpool 1-1 Southampton: Post-Match Thoughts

Fans who thought that Klopp would immediately transform Liverpool have been left disappointed by his opening three games in charge. All have been drawn - while there are positives to take from all of them, the performances have not, in truth, been particularly different from those under Rodgers. The latest in this run of occasionally promising but ultimately disappointing games was a 1-1 draw with Southampton: Benteke’s bullet header was cancelled out by a scrappy late equaliser for the visitors.

Let’s start with the positives. While the team certainly haven’t developed a new, distinct identity just yet, there are signs of gradual movement away from the side we have become used to under Rodgers. These changes are most noticeable at the back – there is a clear focus on a tighter back line, and the constant presence of Sakho has helped to partially achieve this. He still makes the occasional dangerous sloppy pass, and is still partnered by the largely incompetent Skrtel, but even though we are only three games into the Klopp era the defence has definitely already improved a little. The Frenchman was probably man of the match against Southampton – his commanding presence at the back meant that the visitors had limited chances, and his game intelligence and technical ability meant that the transition from defence into midfield was usually fairly rapid. This quick movement of the ball was apparent throughout the team. Passes had a purpose to them, each ball stretched the opposition and opened up a little bit of space for the players to work in. This rapid pass and move style could well have directly resulted in a goal or two – Milner, Lallana and Coutinho all mis-controlled a pass to feet when a good first touch would have seen them through on goal. Finally, the good old gegenpressing must be mentioned: despite what the tactical analysis essays may tell you this has in reality basically turned out to be a simple high press, but it has certainly been effective. Although most of the players simply do not yet have the stamina to sustain it, the first twenty minutes of games have been very positive indeed. Southampton was no different – when not on the ball Liverpool put pressure on the visitors, pushing up to them to try and regain possession and return to the front foot.

Could the narrow diamond best utilise our players?
Sadly, however, there are also multiple negatives. Despite the newfound defensive strength, the silly errors and poor marking from set pieces are yet to be dealt with sufficiently. Misjudged risky passes out from the back nearly put Southampton through on a couple of occasions, and their goal came from a lofted free kick that simply wasn’t dealt with competently. Nobody came close to beating Van Dijk (who, to be fair, had an excellent game) to the first ball, and despite Mignolet and Milner’s best efforts Mane was still able to launch himself at the ball at the far post and turn it home. This simply has to be rectified if Klopp is intent on returning Liverpool to the top from the defence forwards – currently the back line cannot be trusted to keep a clean sheet in any match, and unlike in 2013/14 our attack doesn’t have the strength to repeatedly bail them out. Of course the diminished attacking potency can largely be attributed to the departure of arguably the best striker in world football, but that is no excuse for not fully utilising the players that we do have. Coutinho is getting visibly frustrated at the lack of movement in front of him, frequently resorting to long shots when he doesn’t really have the space for them. Meanwhile Firmino, a forward renowned for his movement, is sitting on the bench and only making cameos when Lallana gets tired from all of the Cruyff turns. To be fair, Firmino is returning from injury - hopefully he will soon be promoted to the starting line-up. Another problem is that Coutinho is arguably playing too far forward – he works best when running from deep, and there is a strong argument to be made that he may benefit the team more from a slightly deeper position. Sturridge’s absence is obviously not helping things either – hopefully his return will get Liverpool scoring freely once more.

It is ludicrous to definitively judge Klopp either way after just three matches, but I think it is fair to say that the start could have been a lot worse. His emphasis on the defence has led to a slightly less shaky looking back line already, and Moreno is looking very dangerous under the German’s guidance. The quick passing and high pressing is also refreshing, and with practice the team could be very well suited to this approach. Personally I believe he is under-utilising some of our attacking players, but that may change after he has had time to properly assess the squad once everyone is back fully fit. In short, while Klopp’s tenure could absolutely still go either way, I for one am happy in the direction we appear to be slowly heading in.
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Tottenham 0-0 Liverpool: A Solid Start

Jurgen Klopp today began his Liverpool career with an unspectacular but promising performance away at in-form Tottenham. Although the club have had great success at White Hart Lane in recent times it would have been incredible for the new manager to conjure up any sort of inspiring performance in his first match – although not magical, what was produced was certainly better than what we have endured in recent weeks. Eager to press and to impress, the team put in an energetic performance and were unlucky not to steal a win. 

Straight from kick off it became apparent that Klopp intends to stick to what he knows at Liverpool. Players had clearly been instructed to press; Spurs were harassed from the off, and looked shaken at the intensity of Liverpool’s play. Lallana in particular looked determined to contribute in a positive way – for the first twenty minutes he seemed to be first to every loose ball, and was eager to get a foot in whenever a defender dwelled for too long. During this spell a Liverpool win looked likely: the hosts were forced to sit deep and, rattled by the strong start from the visitors, were sloppy when they did get the ball. Still, while the style might have changed, the underlying problems have not: Liverpool could not make their considerable pressure pay with a goal. Origi came closest, meeting Can’s flick-on from a corner and heading on to the underside of the bar.

Inevitably, the intensity began to drop off somewhat as the half progressed. Perhaps not used to playing in this way and working this hard, the players allowed Tottenham more time and space to control the game. Momentum shifted fairly drastically and for the second part of the first half it was all Tottenham. Clinton N’Jie, on early for the injured Chadli, came closest: his outside-foot effort was saved excellently by Mignolet. The Belgian could really flourish under a manager with less of an insistence on playing it around the back – ultimately Mignolet is a shot-stopper, and when asked to do just that he shows how brilliant he is at it. On two or three occasions he was responsible for keeping the clean sheet intact.

Although a victory would have been the ideal start to Klopp’s reign, the clean sheet in itself is a big achievement. Liverpool have looked extremely shaky of late, and despite only taking the reins a week ago (while many players were away on international duty) the German has already introduced an element of calm to the back line. Skrtel had a couple of iffy moments as per usual, but his partner was generally immense: Sakho’s highlight was probably a sprawling block to deny Alli. The full-backs were good defensively but also effective going forward: Clyne and Moreno both found themselves in advanced positions on multiple occasions, and while nothing came of it directly it at least meant extra players for Tottenham to have to deal with.

The only real complaint to be levelled at Klopp was the timing of his substitutions. It almost seemed as if he had lost track of time: the first sub was only made with about 15 minutes to go, with Allen replacing Lallana, and Ibe only got a five minute cameo. Sinclair was lined up to come on, but the final whistle blew before the change could be effected – even if he had come on, there would almost certainly not have been time for him to make any difference. Of course this is hardly a cardinal sin – I think we can hold back on the #KloppOut banners for the time being – but it did seem a little odd. That said, it is understandable if he was reluctant to make positive changes too early; a 0-0 draw is not a fairytale start, but away at a Spurs team who have been playing well it is definitely a good one.

The best way to characterise the game is a laying of the groundwork for what is to come. Clearly a tightening up of the defence is central to Klopp’s plans for the club’s rejuvenation – as this progresses and our attackers start returning from injury, draws and losses will surely start turning to wins. With Sturridge, Benteke and hopefully Firmino all returning soon, the future is definitely bright.
-James Martin


Sunday, 4 October 2015

Everton 1-1 Liverpool: Draw Not Enough For Rodgers

A fairly good performance from Liverpool in the Merseyside derby was not enough for Brendan Rodgers to keep his job. Depending on whom you believed before the match it may have been the case that his fate was already sealed anyway; regardless, the outcome is that Rodgers has parted ways with the club. His side showed more fight than in recent weeks, perhaps one last rally around the manager who nearly brought us glory in 2013/14 or, more likely, because of the intensity of the footballing rivalry between Liverpool and Everton, but this didn’t prove enough for a win as once again a defensive error meant that we couldn’t come away with more than a point.

A highlight of the early performance was Liverpool’s attacking pressing. This has been slowly returning to our game after a period of absence where we looked lacklustre, impotent and frankly uninterested – today, the pressure high up the pitch meant that the tempo remained high for much of the match. Danny Ings epitomised this: since coming into the side he has been one of the brightest players, and today was no exception. This positive approach meant that it was Liverpool, the visitors, who started on the front foot – Sturridge looked very lively, dancing and jinking in and out of defenders, linking up quite nicely with Ings. Everyone was getting involved; in a memorable attack, Lucas fed a clever pass through to Skrtel who tried to pick out Sturridge in the middle. The wing backs in particular showed talent going forward. Moreno continued his excellent vein of form, making things happen with his positive running style, and Clyne also looked dangerous when venturing forwards.

As is often the way with such an onerous style of play, the pressing began to fade after about half an hour. Everton still weren’t being allowed to dictate the play, with Lucas playing an important shielding role in front of the defence, but the game became more even. Chances became fewer and further between: a lovely little one-two between Coutinho and Milner nearly resulted in a brilliant goal, but Howard saved smartly at his near post. As is often the way, it was at this quieter phase that the goals came. Having wasted roughly six corners already, Liverpool capitalised on a momentary lapse from the Everton defence as an in-swinging corner was met by an unmarked Ings six yards from goal. It was no more than he deserved, and Liverpool too had been fairly good value for their lead. Sadly, however, it did not last long. A minute into added time at the end of the half, Emre Can made an error in defence that was punished clinically by Lukaku – his awful clearance hit Skrtel, and the Belgian was on hand to smash it home. This type of goal is becoming all too commonplace, and cannot have helped Rodgers’s cause. In truth it isn’t really his fault, and it highlights the fact that a new manager won’t immediately fix everything – perhaps his insistence on passing it out from the back has led to the rise of defensive errors, but most of the blame in this respect must fall at the feet of the players.

They didn’t cover themselves in glory in the second half either. The momentum seriously dropped off, and Everton were given the upper hand – a lack of sufficient pressure meant that the defence was called upon more and more. Mignolet was called upon, and showcased his strengths with two immensely good reaction stops – Naismith was denied from very close range before a drive from McCarthy, seen late due to Galloway standing in the keeper’s eyeline, was turned around the post. He gets some abuse for his occasionally nervy distribution and claiming of the ball, but what he does he does very well: he is a shot-stopper. He is potentially one of the players that will benefit most from a new manager: if he isn’t required to play the ball as much, he could truly be one of our greatest assets.

The second half did not have the intensity of the first, with both sides tiring. Liverpool managed to win a few more corners, but were extremely wasteful with them – the goal should not mask the fact that corners are something we really need to work on. Skrtel’s seven headed goals in 2013/14 were a not insignificant part of our success; certainly we could have had a lot more goals this year if that sort of form could be repeated. A small blessing was that we were at least beating the first man today, but for all the good it did we might as well not have bothered – goal aside, nobody in the middle even threatened to score.

In the end, the draw was probably a fair result. Everton came back strong towards the end, but on the balance of play neither side can complain about coming away with a point. A better performance than many we have seen recently, but not a turning point – certainly not enough to justify a change of heart from FSG over Rodgers. There are definitely positives, however – hopefully these, combined with the lift that a new manager will bring, will combine to bring about some better, top four standard form.
-James Martin
Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Liverpool 0-3 West Ham: Post-Match Analysis

In an action-packed day of Premier League fixtures, two red cards and a 3-0 away defeat for a side that had previously conceded no goals this season was fairly run of the mill. Certainly there was nothing more than average about the Liverpool performance; impotence going forward coupled with defensive ineptitude, the now familiar recipe seen for much of last season, once again served up a hugely disappointing result. An admittedly well-drilled West Ham side took full advantage of our mediocre (at best) play, choosing their moments to get forward and punish our vulnerable back line.

The only real positive to be taken from the defeat is that it clearly demonstrated the two areas of weakness that need addressing. Unfortunately these two areas happen to be the two fundamental parts of football: defence and attack! However, neither our front nor back lines looked beyond repair. The defence would be improved immediately by the removal of Lovren and installation of Sakho – the Croatian did us a favour by making his error for the second goal glaringly obvious, meaning even Rodgers must surely realise it’s time to give Sakho a chance. Seeing as the main (largely misdirected) criticism of the Frenchman is that he’s clumsy on the ball, it’s impossible to justify playing Lovren ahead of him: he’s hardly Maradona himself. Skrtel, too, looked pretty woeful; while he made no errors leading directly to goals, his half-hearted headed clearance certainly didn’t help matters for the visitors’ opener. Sadly, though, he appears to be pretty much an ever-present in the team, and unless Rodgers goes it seems unlikely that Gomez or perhaps Ilori will be given a chance in Skrtel’s stead. In terms of the attack, the problem is the same as it was last season – we simply aren’t creating enough chances. If anything the arrival of Benteke has exacerbated that problem; when short of ideas and options we are now simply hoofing it up to the Belgian, whose knock-downs are not being picked up by anyone in a red shirt. At least last season we would persist with passes on the edge of the opponent’s box and occasionally manage to carve an opening – unless Rodgers changes the way his team are trying to utilise Benteke, it’s hard to see where any chances will come from against deep-sitting teams this campaign.

Hopefully Brendan either addresses this issue or gets replaced, but in the short term the only goals we look like getting are from pieces of individual inspiration. Coutinho scored a screamer against Stoke in the first game and, promisingly, Firmino came extremely close against the Hammers. He jinked past two with a lovely piece of skill before firing towards Randolph’s goal – only the post prevented him from marking his home debut in great style. He has already impressed with his pressing off the ball since arriving, but on the ball we have not seen too much of the skill we all know he possesses: this excellent effort was a good reminder amidst the mediocrity that the near future is not completely bleak. When Firmino really gets going, Coutinho returns from suspension and Sturridge returns then there should be enough pace and trickery to at least partially solve the chance creation issue, and hopefully it won’t be too late to salvage any damage done early on.

It must also be remembered that, prior to this game, no damage had really been done. We took maximum points from the first two and managed to leave the Emirates with a draw – by any standards, this was a solid start. Of course performance is important, but the fact that we picked up points despite poor play in the first three games means that we have a degree of leeway. We remain three points clear of the champions and level on points with Arsenal, so it’s hardly like we’re being left behind. If it takes a few more games to get into our stride then so be it – it’s only if we’re still putting in performances like this come November sort of time when we’ve really got a problem.

On the whole, then, this match should not necessarily be taken as disastrous. Ignoring the worrying signs from the match would be ridiculous, but equally there is simply nothing to be gained from reading too much into one game. There are definitely things to work on and lessons that Rodgers needs to learn quickly, both for the sake of the club and his job, but until we see clear signs that this performance and result was the rule rather than the exception then there is no need to panic. Let’s all just calm down!
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Arsenal 0-0 Liverpool: What Can We Achieve This Season?

After winning our first two games of the season, albeit unconvincingly, Liverpool travelled to the Emirates with a sense of cautious optimism. Although it was evident to everyone that we would need to up our game to take any points away with us, there had been enough flashes of quality to suggest that we could put up a fight. This we did: the first half was a masterclass of attacking play from the visitors at times, while the second showcased our newfound defensive solidity. Although we had a couple of great chances, on the whole Liverpool can be very satisfied taking a point away from a tough place to visit. This was (excuse the cliché) the sort of game we would have lost last season – getting such a positive result raises a question about just how far we can go this campaign.

If we can build on our first half performance, then the answer is surely that we can go very far indeed. Only an absolutely amazing performance from Petr Cech kept us at bay, denying Benteke from point blank range before tipping Coutinho’s curling effort on to the post. He rightly picked up the man of the match award – had it not been for his interventions we could have been out of sight after the first forty five minutes. The crossbar also denied us in the early minutes – Coutinho ran on to a nice through ball, and his curling effort beat Cech but struck the woodwork. Our other Brazilian attacker also impressed; Firmino was granted his full debut, and he showcased his skill and workrate. It was he who put in the excellent ball for Benteke, only for the Belgian to be denied by the keeper. In fairness Arsenal can rightly feel aggrieved after Ramsey had a goal incorrectly disallowed for offside, but on the balance of play they should frankly be grateful that they went in level.

The second half, too, was very positive for us, but in a different manner altogether. The balance of play shifted massively after the interval; Arsenal came at us immediately. They applied the sort of pressure that we’d been putting on them in the first half, but, to my delight and surprise, our back line held up admirably. Nathaniel Clyne continued to impress – already he is proving to be an extremely astute signing. Skrtel, too, did very well: he made a couple of vital interceptions, frustrating Giroud on multiple occasions. Happily, Lovren also showed further signs that he is finding more confidence and form. He has now played perfectly competently against Stoke and Arsenal, albeit briefly reverting to the Lovren we all know and love against Bournemouth. The man who stood out the most, however, was Joe Gomez. 3.5 million is rapidly starting to look like an absolute steal – he kept Arsenal’s right hand side quiet all game, including a particularly memorable seal-out where he knocked Sanchez off the pitch. His level-headedness was remarkable for such a young player in such a big game, and while I am a big fan of Moreno it does seem that he’ll struggle to regain his place (at least at full-back – for my views on his potential future as a winger, read my last article). Lucas also deserves a mention. He looked lost at times in the first half, but his shift in the second period may well have saved him from being sold. He never allowed Arsenal too much time on the ball, constantly closing them down quickly, and this certainly contributed to a hard-earned clean sheet.

Of course, despite all of these positives, this is by no means a finished article of a Liverpool side. For one thing, they didn’t get the win! Although the attack deserves great credit for creating so many opportunities, it should also come under scrutiny for failing to take any of them. Benteke has now missed two clear cut chances in two games – although both were excellent saves in fairness, one would have hoped a 32 million pound man could give the keeper no chance at all. Also, the defence can hardly be called impenetrable; Ramsey demonstrated this by beating it, only to be denied by the flag. There is work to be done, and if we are to challenge for the title (yes, this can be considered as a possibility) then we need to become more clinical at one end of the pitch and tighten up at the other.

That said, these remaining flaws are no reason for the perpetual pessimism currently permeating the Liverpool fan-base. The performances thus far have all given us flashes, at the very least, of what we are capable of – unlike last season all of the new signings are excelling, and when Sturridge comes back things can only get better. Certainly 7 points from the opening 3 is nothing to complain about: it is an excellent points tally, and with a decent run of games coming up it gives us an amazing foundation to build on. I believe we now more or less have the squad that we should have built last season, a squad which can more than make up for the absence of a talismanic striker like Suarez, and which, if things go well, can challenge for the title. If nothing else, we should definitely be able to put up more of a convincing fight than last year, and with a bit of luck we’ll be back in the Champions League in no time.
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Liverpool 1-0 Bournemouth: Post-Match Thoughts

Two games into the season, I’m getting a real sense of déjà vu. Despite missing our star striker we’ve opened the campaign with two victories, albeit unconvincing 1-0s. The parallels from 2013/14 are clear, and if this season pans out like that one did then I for one will most certainly not be complaining! It is a little too early for talk of title races though; on the whole Liverpool have been largely uninspiring, and there was a definite hint of fortune about the victory over Bournemouth.

The visitors took the game to Liverpool from the off: Eddie Howe opted to play two strikers up top, and they caused real problems in the opening 20 minutes. King and Wilson seemed to have the beating of the LFC back line – their pace got them in behind, and there were a couple of nervy moments early on. The worst of these came after Wilson absolutely embarrassed Lovren with a nice bit of trickery, drilled a shot in at the near post and won a corner. The ball was subsequently whipped in, and Elphick headed it home; it was no more than the Cherries deserved, but the officials ruled it out, deeming that the Bournemouth man had fouled Lovren while jumping. This was a harsh decision at best: Lovren made the most of minimal contact having realised he’d lost the header.

This incident did seem to shake Liverpool out of their reverie somewhat. After a couple more waves of attack from the away side the Reds got their act together, and were soon creating a few chances of their own. Benteke was being utilised much better than he was at Stoke, and the big man won multiple knock-downs that were picked up by teammates. His pressing was also excellent; he fashioned a few chances out of absolutely nothing by robbing defenders of the ball deep inside their own half. Even so, there weren’t really any clear cut opportunities. Lallana seemed loathe to utilise any of the space he worked for himself, preferring instead to turn back into trouble, and Coutinho was not having a particularly good game by his standards either – as such, creativity was limited. Somewhat unexpectedly, however, Liverpool did make the breakthrough in the 26th minute. A short corner was worked out to Henderson, who whipped in a great ball. Coutinho went for it and missed, but Benteke was lurking at the far post to knock home. Unlike Bournemouth’s disallowed goal, this one shouldn’t have stood: the Brazilian’s attempt to play the ball should have prompted the assistant to raise his flag. Still, the home crowd weren’t complaining – they roared their approval of the goal, which to be fair was no more than Benteke deserved on what was an excellent home debut.

From here on in Liverpool did a fairly good job of controlling proceedings – they came close to doubling their lead minutes after the goal through a sublimely controlled first time volley from Henderson, and the skipper then had a penalty shout turned down after a push in the small of the back. Half time saw another slight shift in momentum in favour of Bournemouth, but Liverpool began to control the pace of the game a lot more, and saw out the rest of the match fairly comfortably.
their attacks were handled well; throughout the game they were only allowed two shots on target. Clyne in particular was immense – he contained the threat of the rapid Max Gradel excellently, putting in a few amazing tackles. This defensive prowess combined with an extremely potent attacking threat is what makes Clyne such a brilliant signing: the days of Glen Johnson as first choice right back seem like a distant nightmare now. Much like in the first half, Bournemouth’s attacks lost momentum about twenty minutes in –

One extremely interesting change made by Rodgers in the latter stages was the introduction of Moreno at left wing. He was brought on in order to provide extra protection down the left side (Gomez, though still solid, did not look quite as assured as he did vs Stoke), and he did this admirably. He put in a couple of great challenges, breaking up a lot of would-be promising situations for Bournemouth. However, it was what he did going forward that really got me thinking. Freed at least partially from his defensive shackles he bombed up the left side, terrorising defenders with his pace and positivity. It would not be an exaggeration to say that he has been our best performing winger so far this season – never sure whether he’d sprint down the line or jink inside, the Bournemouth back line simply could not contain him. We know he’s capable of finishing; one only needs to hark back to his marvellous goal at Spurs. Maybe, then, he could reinvent himself; with rumours rife that he is now firmly second choice at full back, could he rejuvenate his Liverpool career as a winger? This change between positions has been done to great success in the past: while it would be a huge claim to suggest that Moreno could be as good as Bale, that is certainly the model of transition he would be looking to emulate. There have never been any complaints about Moreno’s talents going forward; defensive positioning has always been his issue. Surely it follows, therefore, that without having to worry about defending he could be a truly excellent wide player? This substitution would appear to suggest that the same thought has crossed Rodgers’ mind, and I for one hope to see a lot more of Moreno here as the season progresses.

Put bluntly, however, Moreno’s cameo was one of the few highlights in an otherwise average performance. Of course, the most important thing is the win, especially at this stage – racking up some early points can be a huge confidence boost. That said, we’ll have to play better than that if we want to get anything from our trip to the Emirates on Monday. Admittedly Arsenal are enduring a rather shaky start, and their back line are there for exploiting, but Liverpool look equally vulnerable. Firmino should be fit to start by next week; hopefully his flair and ingenuity inspires us to create more chances. It really is exciting to think that he and Sturridge are still to be integrated into our side – even without them (discounting a couple of Firmino run-outs) we have put together back-to-back wins and shown flashes of immense quality, which begs the question of what we are capable of with a full strength starting eleven. Could we be in for a 2013/14-esque season? Perhaps not, but a few more good results and Liverpool might just start to make us dream once more. 
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Stoke 0-1 Liverpool: Back With A Win

When the Premier League fixture list was announced a few weeks ago, it was met with many a grimace from Liverpool supporters. The very first game of the season saw us return to the Britannia, the scene of our 6-1 humiliation at the end of the last campaign. As it turned out, however, it was a blessing in disguise; Liverpool exorcised the demons of last season by overcoming Stoke 1-0 courtesy of an outrageous strike from Coutinho. Although it was by no means a perfect performance, the result may well prove symbolic – we’ve left 2014/15 behind us, and are capable of big things this time around.

Amongst the positives was a fairly solid defensive performance. Although there were a few nervy moments (for a couple of awful seconds I was convinced Johnson was going to smash it home), on the whole Liverpool’s back line contained Stoke convincingly. Dejan Lovren deserves a special mention here – he looked confident and assured for once, winning headers and clearing the ball with apparent ease. Even his positioning, so often the thing that lets him down, was pretty much spot on most of the time. His central partner Martin Skrtel was also decent; dodgy underweighted backpasses to Mignolet aside, he did well. The much talked-about Joe Gomez also impressed – Stoke appeared to be targeting him due to lack of experience, but on the whole he stood up well to the test. Clyne was a little disappointing at first, wasting possession multiple times with misplaced passes, but soon grew into the game. As well as being solid defensively, he made some very promising runs forward to create space for Ibe: rather than overlapping he showed a desire to cut inside into the box, and this stretched Stoke’s defence. The Potters had scored at least once in their previous 12 Premier League matches, so keeping them out at their own ground is an achievement that should not be underestimated.

This newfound defensive assuredness did, however, come at a price. Presumably anxious to avoid conceding too many after the previous humiliation, Rodgers had clearly instructed his team to play with a degree of caution. Thus, chances were at a premium – the creative spark was very much lacking for a lot of the game, with Benteke looking very isolated for most of the match. Lallana, Ibe and Coutinho were the three carrying the main responsibility for chance creation in the first half, and none of them were at their best; Lallana barely had the ball, Coutinho was ambitious but wasteful and Ibe was regularly too slow to cross. It looked like a 0-0er for much of the match – had it not been for two astute changes from Rodgers, this may well have been the case. Renowned for making bizarre switches last season, this came as a relief to fans. His decision to bring on Can allowed Milner and Henderson to push further forward, thus piling more pressure on a Stoke side who were dropping further and further back. Firmino then entered the fray, immediately showing his talents – he was a real handful, keeping the Stoke defence very busy. This allowed more space for others, and Coutinho capitalised in full from this extra room by scoring a truly unbelievable goal.

There is a case to be made for this being the little Brazilian’s best strike yet in a Liverpool shirt, and considering he was shortlisted for goal of the season last year that’s saying something. A long way from goal, he got over the ball perfectly – the resulting shot flew sublimely into the top corner, the perfect combination of power and precision. Butland was helpless. The timing of the strike was also excellent; Stoke were given precious little time to recover, and Liverpool were able to see out the remaining few minutes without serious incident.

Of course, we cannot rely on Coutinho scoring those sort of goals every week (although they’re getting much more regular!). Moving forwards, Liverpool definitely need to up the intensity of their game and improve upon their chance creation. However, this is early days, and a win to start the season is truly excellent. It was particularly important after the disappointing end to the last campaign – this really shows the turning of a new leaf, a fresh start. It is also worth noting that when Firmino is fit enough to start, chance creation should be less of a problem; even in his 15 minute cameo, the new man showed a glimpse of how much skill he possesses. With other big teams tripping up this weekend, we look like we might be on for my predicted competitive Premier League season: I think that we’ll still have 6 teams in the title race at Christmas, and I believe that we’ll be one of them. Looking at our squad, particularly our attackers, there is no doubt that we have the players to challenge for the title like we did two years ago. The question is, can we put in the performances? To me, the signs are encouraging. Roll on Bournemouth!
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013 

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Liverpool: The Summer So Far

Alright guys? It’s been a while! Since my last article I’ve completed my AS exams, decided on a university course, begun work on my UCAS application and been to a Taylor Swift concert, but more importantly Liverpool have made five major signings. Firmino, Clyne, Milner, Ings and Bogdan have all been brought in – the speed of the club’s business is certainly admirable, but do the new players represent astute purchases?

Let’s start with Firmino. Most of the Liverpool fan base was more taken aback than anything else when it was announced we’d signed him; the rumour had the same feel as a Sanchez or Shaqiri link, it seemed too good to be true. This was particularly the case as Manchester United had also been strongly linked – it seemed almost inevitable that once again a big talent would turn us down in favour of our rivals. Once the shock had died down the elation kicked in: for the first time in ages, Liverpool made a signing that managed to unite virtually every fan. Firmino is an exciting young talent, whose recent development has seen him earn a regular spot in the Brazil team. His flair and creativity alongside an eye for goal is exactly what Liverpool needed – I for one can’t wait to watch him combining with compatriot Philippe Coutinho in Liverpool red. The price tag did raise some eyebrows – surprisingly, the move represented the biggest transfer in Bundesliga history – but with no Champions League to offer, it’s no shock that Liverpool are having to pay big to attract big names. So long as he can replicate his Hoffenheim and Brazil form in the Premier League, Firmino is bound to be a big hit.

Nathaniel Clyne, too, is an excellent addition to the squad. Liverpool were in dire need of a right back; the amount of times Rodgers resorted to playing Can there last season demonstrated this. Glen Johnson was released in the summer (hallelujah) and Manquillo’s loan is reportedly going to be terminated, so the team really was in need of a first-team level right sided full back. In Clyne, they have got one of the best performing Premier League full backs of last season – defensively solid, he also offers a threat going forward. This makes him ideal for Liverpool, and I have every confidence he will succeed where his fellowSouthampton signings did not. At first reading, 12 million seems like a snip for a player of his quality. However, it must be taken into account that he did only have a year left to run on his contract. Even so, the sum is a reasonable amount to pay for such a talented player: as with Firmino, I must admit to being fairly surprised that we managed to secure him ahead of other clubs. At just 24, hopefully he’ll enjoy success at Anfield for years to come.

James Milner is the first of the new signings that has proved seriously divisive. While most are in agreement that picking up an experienced Premier League player on a free was a shrewd piece of business, the level of impact he’ll have on Liverpool’s performance in the coming campaign is very much up for debate. Some have painted Milner as the most criminally underrated player in history, professing that he will single-handedly return Liverpool to its former glory, while others have suggested that he may struggle to even make the starting eleven! In reality, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle ground. I have been known to criticise Milner before – indeed, he has been the butt of many a joke both in my articles and on Twitter. However, this was largely due to the contrast between himself and his former teammates – when surrounded by exotic, skilled foreign players full of flair and creativity, a man whose talents lie in hard graft and pressing can seem laughable. And yet these are the very talents which Liverpool require; the success of 2013/14 was built around a high pressing, high intensity game, and Milner can bring that back to the centre of our midfield. Although not the most exciting of our additions, Milner is sure to contribute a lot next season.

It’s very hard to judge the signing of Danny Ings at the moment, as currently the fee Liverpool will have to pay Burnley in compensation has not yet been agreed. The two clubs are hopeful of reaching an out-of-court agreement, but if current reports are to be believed then a tribunal is looking more and more likely due to Burnley’s attempts to hold out for 8 million pounds. If the final figure did end up close to that amount, it has to be said that it’s a big gamble of a purchase. Ings established himself in the Championship (alongside Sam Vokes) in the 2013/14 season, and did fairly well in a very average side in Burnley’s single season in the Premier League, but as yet he has not proved himself to be of Liverpool quality. At about 4-5 million, it is definitely a gamble worth taking – he clearly has talent, at 22 is likely to improve further, and he’s decent backup for when Sturridge inevitably gets injured. However, any more than that represents a big outlay for a player who, let’s face it, has hardly set the world alight thus far.   

Finally we come to the man himself, Adam Bogdan. This is by far the most heavily criticised signing the club has made – the keeper who lost his place at Championship side Bolton (admittedly after injury) hardly seems like a signing of Liverpool quality. However, personally I think it’s a decent addition. Admittedly this is partially because the prospect of the Bogdan chant (to the Batman theme tune) being sung on the Kop is a very funny one indeed, but there are other reasons. Firstly, we got him on a free. Secondly, his wages are likely to be low. Thirdly, he proved during his time in the Premier League with Bolton and again versus Liverpool in the cup this year that he has quality – as a back-up to Mignolet, there’s nothing wrong with him whatsoever. He may even offer competition for the number 1 spot – he’s certainly better than Brad Jones at any rate. Whilst we probably could have done better, it is by no means a catastrophic transfer.

To sum up, I am very satisfied with the signings the club have made so far. Three of them directly bolster our first team and the other two are solid back-up: all five will help us have a better campaign than last time out, and hopefully see us push for at least fourth once again. It is also pleasing to see that Liverpool are making additions to the youth side – Bobby Adekanye of Barcelona, Joe Gomez of Charlton and Allan Rodriguez (supposedly close to signing) of Internacional all come with big reputations. If we keep strengthening at every level in this fashion, we can hopefully secure success not just now but well into the future. Here’s to the new season!
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Monday, 18 May 2015

Liverpool 1-3 Crystal Palace: Gerrard’s Anfield Farewell

After close to 17 years of loyal service to his boyhood club, Steven Gerrard yesterday played his last ever match at Anfield. This was a day of celebration, a day to pay homage to the man who has single-handedly rescued Liverpool on so many occasions. The mood was slightly dampened by a lacklustre performance leading to a disappointing 3-1 loss, but ultimately this was a day where the game and its result was a mere sideshow, simply providing the backdrop for the final farewell of a club legend.

The veritable feast of nostalgia meant that a plethora of old Gerrard clips were retrieved from the archives – footage of Olympiakos, Istanbul, the 2006 FA Cup Final and countless other memorable moments were unavoidable throughout the day. This was only fitting, but also inadvertently threw sharp focus on the failings and inadequacies of the current team; the jubilant faces of the likes of Torres, Mascherano and Alonso contrasted starkly to the defeated Lambert, Lovren and Lallana trudging off after a shocking showing against Palace. Certainly it raises questions over where the club is going – the glorious European nights seem so distant, totally out of reach with the current personnel. Coutinho, Henderson, Mignolet and to an extent Sterling are the only ones who can look back on the season with any sort of pride: are the rest really good enough for Liverpool? Come to that, is Rodgers? If Istanbul were to happen today, I don’t think we’d come from behind to win it. I think we’d bring on Lambert at 3-0 down, the famous fans would take a few selfies in complete silence and we’d whimper to a 5-1 defeat, after which the manager would praise our “great character” for snatching a goal back.

Still, that’s a debate for another day. This day was all about our captain: while the sublime and the ridiculous (looking at you on this one Voronin) came and went, Gerrard remained. To lose him is to lose an integral part of the club itself – Steven was Liverpool, he epitomised all that it stood for. If there was any justice in football he would have signed off with a screamer to win the FA Cup Final, but the damp squib of an ending does nothing to devalue his service to the club. I grew up with Gerrard as the go-to to get on the back of the shirt, the one everyone tried to replicate in the playground – he will surely go down as one of the greatest English players of all time.

His unique standing in the footballing world was shown by the sheer volume of tributes he received from pros and ex-pros. Henry, Del Piero, Kaka, Suarez… the list goes on. It seemed that everyone had a good word for the skipper – the man who Zidane described as possibly the best in the world received high praise from all corners of the globe. It felt for all the world like his retirement: it was easy to forget that he isn’t ending his career, but simply moving across the pond. Not only that, he’s not quite done for us yet! The visit to Stoke is still to come, and while his proper send-off was at Anfield it’ll be good to see him don the shirt (probably the yellow one now I come to think of it) one last time.

I know this hasn’t been much of a match report, but this is not the time for analysing and summarising and criticising – this is the time to pay your respects to the man who has defined this football club for so long. I have had many a bad word for him over the past couple of seasons, but once you’ve acquired legendary status then you can never lose it – the club are undoubtedly losing a legend, one who will be greatly missed and also adored for the memories he has left us with. Thanks Stevie.

-James Martin
Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013


Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Chelsea 1-1 Liverpool: Post-Match Thoughts

On Sunday, Liverpool travelled to Stamford Bridge knowing that their top four chances were all but over. A win would have kept them mathematically alive, but essentially all that was at stake was pride. Chelsea, too, had nothing to play for, although for much more desirable reasons: they have already won the league. This was evident in how the game panned out – the hosts barely got out of first gear, and Liverpool’s introduction of promising youngsters Jerome Sinclair and Jordon Ibe into the fray had a definite exhibition match sort of feel about it.

Still, there was nothing friendly about the game’s opening exchanges. Perhaps instructed by Mourinho not to lift off, Chelsea were quick to mark their territory with a couple of ferocious challenges early on. Fabregas should probably have seen red for a nasty challenge on Sterling, and then should certainly have been off for a second yellow just minutes later after holding Sterling back. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, a Chelsea midfielder making his first Premier League start, also showed his willingness to go in for some robust challenges. The style of play was less PL champions and more Stoke circa 2011, and the opening goal had a similar feel about it. Fabregas whipped in a corner, and Terry, having lost Lambert, headed home past Mignolet. Hardly a vintage strike, but one that meant Liverpool were behind after all of five minutes.

From here on in, the Reds managed to up their game. The absence of Matic combined with the general end-of-season apathy of the hosts meant that there was space to be used in midfield, which Lallana and Coutinho utilised effectively. Several times attacks nearly came to something, but the final ball was lacking. Sterling had his best game for a while (perhaps showing off for potential new employers?), showing his ability to run at defenders and beat them. However, his end product was lacking – he dragged wide from good positions on a couple of occasions. In the end though, it was not a piece of intricate build-up that led to the equaliser. Like Chelsea’s goal, it came from a set piece. Lallana won a free kick on the edge of the box, and the subsequent delivery picked out Gerrard, who had been left unmarked at the far post. He guided the ball into the corner with his head, meaning the two teams went in level.

Liverpool were the better of the two sides for much of the second half, but still failed to properly test Courtois. This highlighted the need for additions to the squad in the summer – both the final ball and the clinical striker to be on the end of it are lacking, and if we are to replicate the title challenge of last season then we sorely need them. A defensive midfielder is also a must-buy: for the twenty minutes or so mid-way through the second half that Chelsea bothered to put in a performance, they cruised effortlessly through the midfield multiple times. Not since Mascherano have we had a competent defensive midfielder capable of shielding the defence enough to allow the other midfielders to get forward and help in attack. 

At the end of the day a draw against the champions isn’t a bad result, but the game highlighted just as many problems as it did strengths. It would be easy to praise the team, but the truth is that had Chelsea even been close to their best then they would have walked this match. Still, it did show the positives within our squad, and hopefully a few astute additions in the summer will be enough to get us back challenging for silverware next time out.
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Liverpool 2-1 QPR: Post-Match Thoughts

After a string of poor results stemming from even poorer performances, yesterday Liverpool finally managed to find themselves again. It wasn’t exactly a vintage display, but it was unrecognisable to the utter tripe we were forced to endure against Hull and, to a lesser extent, West Brom. This improvement was reflected in the final score – despite missing a penalty with the scores tied in the 80th minute, Liverpool kept fighting and managed to come away as 2-1 victors.

The team sheet had a rather end-of-season look about it: Rodgers opted to return to the double-pivot of Henderson and Gerrard that was such a disappointment in the first half of the campaign, and Lambert was also given a start. As it happened, this worked rather well – Gerrard’s defensive weaknesses weren’t exploited at all by an underwhelming QPR, and Henderson was able to force the issue at times with some wonderful long balls that his central midfield partner would be proud of. Lambert, too, did very well. He put in what was surely his best performance in a Liverpool shirt, making some decent runs and linking up fairly well with the rest of the attack. It was he who created the opening goal: a lovely pull-back across the box was controlled exquisitely by Coutinho, who proceeded to use his second touch to curl the ball unerringly into the top corner.

From then on in it was total control for the hosts, and in truth they should have added more goals. Lallana got through on goal, but smashed it wide at the near post rather than aiming for the far post or squaring it to Sterling. At the time this seemed like the wrong choice, but having seen what happened a little later on maybe it was sensible not to trust Sterling with an open goal! Early in the second half the youngster was picked out by a glorious Henderson ball, but despite being just six yards from goal he was unable to keep his effort down. This summed up his post-Christmas form: ever since the contract saga begun, he’s contributed little more than Victor Moses managed in a Liverpool shirt. Obviously we all know that Sterling possesses immense quality, but if he cannot produce that consistently then he is in no position to hold the club to ransom. For me, if he doesn’t soften on wage demands and doesn’t round off the season with three absolutely world class performances, he can leave.

His miss became even more depressing when Liverpool were punished for their wastefulness by Leroy Fer. The visitors had barely created anything all game, but then Fer steered the ball home from a Joey Barton corner to level the game up. It looked like, despite the vastly improved performance, Liverpool’s severe problems in attack would come back to haunt them once more to continue what has been a torrid end to the season. However, just when all seemed lost, the man who has always been there for us when we need him stepped up.

And missed his spot kick.

Steven Gerrard will undoubtedly be gutted that he’s missed what could well be his last ever LFC penalty, particularly as it was in front of the Kop, but the captain did not waste time dwelling on his poor effort. After Onouha got sent off for a second bookable offence the reds began to totally dominate once more, and Gerrard grabbed the reward for this dominance with just minutes to go. Coutinho’s corner found the skipper, who towered above Barton and emphatically headed the ball beyond Green.

With United having lost their game against West Brom, there is an outside chance that this win could earn Liverpool more than pride. I’m not getting my hopes up – LFC’s run-in includes a trip to Chelsea, and even if they do win all of their games it is unlikely that the Red Devils will drop 4 points (realistically five due to goal difference) in three games. However, it does at least mean that we’ve kept the pressure on: if United do slip up horrendously, we need to be in a position to capitalise. That said, the best thing about this game was the performance – in all likelihood the season is over, but it is vital for confidence that we go out with a bang rather than a whimper.
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013  

Sunday, 26 April 2015

West Brom 0-0 Liverpool: Post-Match Analysis

Well let’s face it, there’s not too much to say on this game. Even the commentators, who considering they are getting paid to watch and talk about football should always be happy, sounded bored out of their minds for the majority of the game. Other than a decent half-volley from Balotelli, a speculative effort from the halfway line by Coutinho and a good save from Myhill to deny Henderson from close range, there was really very little to get excited about; the fact that it took almost an hour for the first shot on target says all you need to know.

Of course, the Liverpool defence have to take at least some credit for making this game so boring. The lack of action was largely because of West Brom’s ridiculously deep line couple with Liverpool’s attacking impotence, but on the few occasions that the hosts did threaten the Reds defence coped admirably. Lovren in particular deserves credit: he has taken a huge amount of flak since his 20 million pound move in the summer, but he didn’t let that weigh on his mind. Other than a few poorly thought out “Hollywood balls” in the early stages he didn’t put a foot wrong, consistently beating Anichebe in the air and making a couple of vital challenges and interceptions. Mignolet had very little to do at all, but he will be pleased with the clean sheet: it takes him joint top in the running for the Golden Glove, something that nobody would have expected after his shaky start to the campaign.

However, encouraging though the newfound defensive strength is, it is almost meaningless when we don’t have anyone capable of doing the job at the other end. Sturridge’s almost constant injury problems have been a real blow, and unsurprisingly the genius of Suarez has been missed this season. His ability to draw three defenders and then beat them left space for the rest of our attackers to work in – with the exception of Coutinho, nobody has managed to reproduce that sort of thing this season. This has meant that Liverpool have been reduced to aimlessly passing it around just outside the edge of the 18 yard box, occasionally taking pot shots in the hope that they can be bailed out by a wondergoal. Come the summer, whoever is in charge of the club by then will have to prioritise bringing in players who can create and score goals: the links with Depay are encouraging, but if recent history is anything to go by then we’ll probably fail to secure his signature and instead settle for Milner.

Balotelli was given a rare chance by Rodgers in this match. He proved all of the vacuous critics wrong in that his work rate could not really be faulted – he made multiple good runs and showed willingness to press the opposition at times. However, he was still ineffectual. This was largely down to the service he was provided, but he does of course have to take some blame for failing to make anything happen: when you’re out of favour, you have to grasp any chance you’re given. Rodgers looked a defeated man at times, slumped against the wall of the dugout, and this view was reinforced when he threw Borini on with just under half an hour to play. The Italian is even more out in the cold than his compatriot Balotelli, and everybody knew that he would be unable to offer the incisive input needed to break down the West Brom back line.
It was a pointless change from a manager who rapidly seems to be running out of ideas – none of the formations he tries are making any difference, and his press conferences are becoming gradually more ridiculous by the day. Am I saying he should be sacked immediately? Not necessarily, no. Rodgers has an ambition for the club which we saw a snippet of in our excellent campaign last year, and if he is given more time then there is every chance that he’ll be able to get us to sustain that level of performance and consistently challenge for the league. However, you couldn’t blame FSG for pulling the plug on him; he wasted all of their money in the summer, transforming the team from a 100+ goals per season outfit to one who consistently struggles to find the net. Again, the injuries to Sturridge and the almost unavoidable departure of Suarez have to be taken into account here, but Rodgers cannot absolve himself of all blame like he seems to want to do in press conferences. Especially considering Klopp might be available, it wouldn’t be too surprising if Rodgers was shown the door at the end of the season.

Be it the manager, the personnel or simply the style of play, something clearly needs to change for next season. This campaign is pretty much a write-off now, but we cannot afford to carry on with these disappointing performances into the new season. We have a good young team with bags of potential, but we need more: we need to bolster the squad with prolific goal-scorers and set them up in a way that allows the goals to start flowing freely once more. One season of mediocrity after a squad overhaul that saw our best player leave can just about be forgiven – if the trend is not reversed in the next campaign, then all of the progress we seemed to be making last season will be undone.
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013 

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Liverpool 2-0 Newcastle: The Chase Is On

Despite dominating for the majority of the game, Liverpool had to survive a couple of scares in order to come out as 2-0 winners against Newcastle. The visitors were denied a clear penalty when Lovren foolishly scythed down Perez in the box, and Mignolet was called upon to make a couple of top saves. In the end, though, Liverpool were very much deserving winners; the result leaves them just four points adrift of fourth placed Manchester City, whose recent rapid decline will give Rodgers’ side hope of an unlikely finish in the Champions League places.

The player of the match was undoubtedly Philippe Coutinho, who by now must be getting almost embarrassed by the number of man of the match and player of the month awards he’s picked up this season! He dazzled Anfield with his mesmerising skill, and epitomised his other-worldly passing ability with a ridiculously clever backheel that took out four hapless Newcastle defenders at once. Although he did not chalk up any goals or assists (which lots of football fans would have you believe means he had a bad game), he was instrumental in his side’s victory. The man who did open the scoring for us was Raheem Sterling – he too had an excellent game, causing the Newcastle back line all sorts of problems with his pace, quick feet and incisive passing as well as scoring excellently past them with a curling shot into the corner. However, he also highlighted just how far he still has to go before he is the fabled “complete attacker”: he missed two very simple opportunities to score, firing wide and then over from positions that were both less than 10 yards out. Even if his eventual plan is to leave Liverpool (which hopefully it isn’t – he is an immense talent with bags of ability), he can surely see that another season’s development at a club so renowned for handling young players well is the best thing for his game.

Another notable performance was that of Joe Allen. Aside from quietly getting on with controlling the midfield as he often does so well, he also bagged his first ever Premier League goal at Anfield to put the match to bed. Having survived a penalty scare towards the end of the first half and then been dominated for the first few minutes of the second, the stage looked set for Newcastle to punish Liverpool for all the chances that had gone begging earlier. However, the little Welshman was on hand to settle the Kop nerves with twenty minutes to play, smashing home an instinctive volley after Can, who had been up for a corner, headed the ball back into the danger zone.

Even the most pessimistic of Liverpool fans, perhaps those who were having flashbacks of what happened last time Joe Allen scored, had their fears alleviated ten minutes later when Moussa Sissoko was shown a red card for a second bookable offence. In truth he should probably have been given a straight red – his studs-up challenge on Lucas, who had a solid game, could have left the Brazilian seriously injured. Either way, it meant that the last ten minutes of the match was a formality: Newcastle just sat back and aimed to prevent Liverpool from getting a third. This they did, but Liverpool will not mind about that: the players doubtless left Anfield yesterday satisfied with their evening’s work.

It’s hard not to play a game of what might have been when looking at the table, but it does at least look a lot better than it might have done after this result. City’s slip-ups mean that the top four picture, which even Rodgers all but ruled out after the back-to-back defeats to United and Arsenal, is now not so bleak – the reds trail by just four points, with six games still left to play. Admittedly Liverpool would still have to be considered outsiders; a trip to Chelsea mars an otherwise easy run-in. However, in a season that has seen an almost unprecedented number of twists and turns in the race for fourth place, who knows what could happen?

Before turning their attention back to this late push for fourth, however, the players have the small matter of an FA Cup semi-final to think about. Tim Sherwood has blessed Villa with his fabled win ratio, and they have chosen a rather inconvenient time to hit such good form. Liverpool face a big challenge in trying to deal with the in-form Christian Benteke, and will have to be at their best to advance to the final. Hopefully they can go all the way though: call me a sentimentalist, but I think that Gerrard lifting the cup after his last game, which also happens to be his birthday, would be the perfect send-off for a man who has been a truly loyal servant to the club.
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Arsenal 4-1 Liverpool: The Five Stages of Grief

Stage 1: We played very badly. Mignolet bailed us out, we somehow survived.

Stage 2: We played quite well. Should have scored, Markovic messed up a simple pass that would have left a tap-in for Sterling.

Stage 3: We capitulated, and having conceded three in eight minutes went into the break 3-0 down.

Stage 4: We didn’t come out with any real fight. Arsenal sat back, and we couldn’t break through. We got a penalty and just about converted it, but it was too late to think of a comeback.

Stage 5: Can picked up a stupid second yellow to compound our misery, and Giroud topped it off with a nice goal in stoppage time. The result leaves us nowhere near the top four, and realistically ends our hopes of Champions League football next season.

There really isn’t much else to say. Perhaps this result could leave Rodgers’s long-term future in jeopardy, and the missing out on the top four is bound to cut our work out for us in the summer when trying to keep hold of our best players and attract new ones, but those are articles for another time. Right now, the bottom line is that we lost: I’m sorry, but I can’t bring myself to write any more than this on what was a dreadful result with dreadful consequences.
Mignolet was one of the few players who put in a generally good performance

Arsenal vs Liverpool: Preview

Had I been writing this preview two weeks ago, I would have been brimming with confidence. Up until recently Liverpool were on a confidence high with results to back it up, but there’s nothing like a sound beating by a bitter rival to kill the mood. The Reds now come into the game on the back of an underwhelming display, knowing that nothing but a win will be good enough to keep the distant hopes of a fourth placed finish alive.

It is against this somewhat bleak backdrop that Liverpool will have to put on a performance. The situation will not be helped by the absence of Martin Skrtel – he can usually be relied upon to bang a couple in against Arsenal, as I’m sure their fans will remember if they cast their minds back to when the two sides met at Anfield last season! This could mean a tactical switch to a flat back four, or, dread of dreads, Lovren could be called upon. Rodgers has an undeniable streak of stubbornness, and this means that a recall for the Croatian looks worryingly likely. Can has also looked shaky in recent weeks, so it’s safe to say that the rearguard isn’t exactly inspiring. Ozil, who has finally hit form of late, could have a field day – there will be gaps to exploit, that’s for sure.

So Liverpool turn to their front-men to do the business. Things do look a little better on this front – Daniel Sturridge looks set to be available for the game, and while he’s never as lethal as he can be directly after returning from injury (so most games), even a Sturridge on 50% poses a serious threat to the opposition. Balotelli, too, is capable of making an impact if he gets a look in: he sank Arsenal’s London rivals, and has the quality to do the same on Saturday. Rodgers should convince him it’s a charity match before kick-off, then he’s bound to put in a quality performance! Sterling is also always problematic for opponents, and can be relied upon to be a real nuisance whether deployed at wing-back or up front.

Speaking of Sterling, the youngster owes us a performance after certain comments made in the press recently. His comments that he was “flattered” by Arsenal’s apparent interest in the direct build-up to this match were unprofessional, and, without meaning to take too much of a dig at Arsenal, baffling. He claimed that he wanted to win trophies – aside from one FA Cup, the Gunners have failed to win anything in the last ten years. In that time, Liverpool have won the FA Cup, League Cup and Champions League.

They also have a squad which is full of potential – Markovic, Ibe and Coutinho are just three examples of players who look like they could be world class within a year or two, and speaking in the longer term we have one of the best u21s sides in England. There is nothing Arsenal can really offer Sterling that he can’t get at Anfield; nothing, that is, except perhaps Champions League football. This adds even more importance to the clash at the weekend – while calling it a “battle for Sterling” would be absurd, Liverpool desperately need to claw their way into the top four if they want to hold on to their best players and attract top new signings.

In terms of my match prediction, I’m going to be optimistic and say 2-1 Liverpool. They will surely be eager to make amends – they know as well as the fans do that the performance against United was not good enough, and a quick glance at the league table should give them all the motivation they need to get a result in this one. Gerrard’s absence could prove a blessing in disguise – Allen has been playing very well of late, and he could prove pivotal in winning Liverpool control in the midfield.
Coutinho is in the form of his life, and a bit of magic from him is all it will take to breach the Arsenal back line. As long as the defence don’t totally capitulate – which, granted, is a definite possibility – I think Liverpool have the quality in the other areas of the pitch to get the better of Arsenal. While it may not be enough to get us a place in the Champions League, we can’t go out with a whimper: the Liverpool way is to give everything until the end, and that’s what Arsenal have to expect at the weekend.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Liverpool 1-2 United: Post-Match Analysis

These are always the worst articles to write. We’ve lost to our bitter rivals. Not only that, we’ve lost by putting in a performance that was, at times, utterly abysmal. Add to that the injury picked up by Sturridge, the three match suspensions for both Skrtel and Gerrard and the fact that we now need a minor miracle to make the top four, and it’s fair to say that this match can be written off as an absolute disaster.

As with most derbies, the quality was poorer than we normally see. Passes were constantly going astray and both teams lacked any sort of fluidity in the early stages. It was Man United who were looking the less awful of the two sides though, and this played out when the visitors took the lead after just fourteen minutes. Ander Herrera played a lovely ball through to Mata, who finished very coolly indeed on his weaker foot. Liverpool fans could take minor solace in the fact that it was at least a good goal – it would have been even harder to stomach a Fellaini header from a long ball over the top.

Our miseries were compounded as the game went on. The first half went from poor to abysmal, and Liverpool looked utterly incapable of scoring. We only made one chance in the entire half – that said, it was a golden opportunity. Adam Lallana received a pull-back that gave him a clear shot on De Gea’s goal, but he placed it just wide. Other than that, the home fans had nothing to get off their seats about; following the rousing chorus of YNWA at the start of the game, the crowd noise rapidly (and, to be brutally honest, understandably) declined. Any hopes of a second half revival were quickly stifled – Gerrard, who had come on to replace Lallana, got himself sent off after just 38 seconds. Experienced he may be, but he showed all the composure of a 20 year old in his very first Liverpool-United clash. He needlessly stamped on Herrera in response to a hard challenge he had just been on the receiving end of, and left the referee no choice but to dismiss him. Admittedly you can’t really blame him for wanting to take his last chance to have a good stamp on one of the Mancs, but he hardly helped the team!

Sure enough, United were the next to score. Liverpool did at least look like they wanted the result in the second half, but the damage was already done. The second goal for the visitors came through Mata again – as with the first, it was an excellent goal. This one was a scissor kick: the ball came in behind him, and he improvised marvellously to put it into the far corner beyond Mignolet. The game was all but up by this point – with half an hour to go and one man less than their opponents, it was always going to be an uphill struggle for Liverpool. It was a testament to Rodgers’ beloved “character” and team spirit that we managed to pull a goal back – the players didn’t allow their heads to drop completely, and Sturridge emphatically rifled his strike in at the near post with twenty minutes to play. This was not enough to inspire an unlikely recovery, however – United looked the more likely to score the fourth goal of the game. They seemed as if they were about to do just that in the last few minutes when Can put in an awfully clumsy challenge in the box, gifting United a penalty. Rooney, however, could not beat Mignolet, who guessed the right way and made a fine stop.

I tend to try and end on some sort of positive note after the summary of the match events. Sadly, on this occasion, the immediate future is looking somewhat bleak. We are now five points adrift of fourth place and go into the Arsenal clash on the back of a demoralising loss – failure to win that one will absolutely kill any remaining hopes of a Champions League spot. It is starting to look inevitable that United will somehow make fourth, despite playing absolutely appallingly for most of the season. Of course, being a Liverpool fan is enough to have taught me that it’s never quite over, but Europa is looking like it’s on the cards for next season.

-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013