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.