Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Ins and Outs

In which Scott is judgmental:

With only half a handful of games left in the current season, most Liverpool eyes are cast forward with anticipation to the summer transfer window, now that Top 4 is but a shiny toy yanked from reach just as the Reds leaped to claim it. Rather than futilely jumping again and again, now is the time to build the ladder, with fresh players, that will climb to the summit of the Premier League once more. 

Who will stay and who will go?  Much has been written on the topic, but a few things stand out:

Balotelli just didn't work out and needs to be moved on. His style doesn't fit the current system and, despite flashes of brilliance, his frustration gets the better of him too often and his work rate barely registers at times. I still believe he is too often unfairly maligned, but his skill set is better suited for a different style of play. 

Given that I was ready to write him off two years ago, along with most others, I can't believe I'm saying this but Henderson should be Gerrard's heir apparent to the Captaincy. The example of his work rate alone would be a fine contribution to that position, but his increasing ability to score and make the incisive pass puts him over the top. And with Gerrard gone next year, he won't have to captain sheepishly from the shadows. 

Gerrard going to MLS is one of the blessings of this season. He was going to have to be more and more marginalized, so difficult for all parties when such a legend is involved. And the team can certainly use his wages for in in incoming talent. 

I don't know what Lambert's wages are, but as a solid squad player and "change of pace option" I think he should be retained. He was not given much of a chance this year and the few opportunities that he did have were generally in the midst of desperation or dismal team play. 

Borini has not done enough to stay.  Too bad we couldn't get the 14M for him last year.  When on the field, which is not often, he plays so desperately that he throws the hole team off.

Rodgers (yes, even the Manager is fodder here) should be retained, unquestionably.  Has he been perfect or faultless?  Of course not.  But he did take this team to 2nd last year and within a whisper of Top 4 this year after losing 50 goals.  He deserves another season.  Then we'll see.

Sterling just needs to take what is given him, gratefully, and learn how to tap in a sitter.  Then he can moan about earning Ronaldo/Messi wages.  Yes, he is a bright star with a very promising future.  But we've all seen our fair share of stars fizzle right after being crowned.

Glen Johnson just isn't good enough.  And given his high wages, he is a near certainty to move on.  In fact, he often doesn't even look interested in playing very hard.

We'll see what the summer holds, but those are some initial thoughts.  In the meantime, who would have thought Man U would have stunk it up even more than us over the past 3 games.  If Pardew's crew can edge the Red Devils and if Chelsea complacense manifests, who knows?

This is farlieonfootie for May 6. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Ode on (a Melancholic) Liverpool

photo by Zest-pkvia PhotoRee

In which Scott waxes lyrically about the reds:

Historians may disagree, but I think Keats may have been a Liverpool fan. Still, despite his admonitions, I'm tempted to go to Lethe, hand in hand with the downy owl, sucking the ruby grape of Proserpine all the while. Such is the weeping cloud of melancholy that has fallen as quickly as Liverpool's Top 4 chances and FA Cup Dreams.

My very last post, granted some time ago, waxed on about the Rising Reds and all that was right in their footballing world. Yet Joy's hand was, indeed, at his lips bidding adieu to the Beauty that died by the feet of Manchester United and Arsenal in the league.

Then, in the very temple of FA Cup delight, Melancholy unveiled her sovereign shrine, and Aston Villa hid the green hill in an April shroud. There aren't enough globed peonies in all the world on which to glut the collective Liverpool sorrow.

So, with a half-dozen games left to play, while the English poet may have aptly described our sorrow, he also explains that Melancholy and Joy are inextricably intertwined, each needing the other. Joy's grape of previous success was burst on palate fine and we now taste the sadness of Melancholy's might. Until she's veiled again in Delight's temple...

Whether she be shrouded by a Top 4 finish or a successful 2015-2016 season remains to be seen.

This is farlieonfootie for April 23.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Upward and Onward: Scott on Liverpool's Run of Form

photo by extranoisevia PhotoRee

Absence is said to make the heart grow fonder and my brief absence from posting to this prestigious blog has found me smitten with how Liverpool are playing, that Blackburn black eye notwithstanding. Brendan Rodgers tinkered with formations and lineups to help the Reds emerge from their late 2014 downward spiral and now sees his charges conceding fewer goals, scoring more and, most importantly, winning. No losses so far in 2015 and, aside from the aforementioned FA Cup debacle at Anfield, they have played some of the best soccer in the EPL of late. Exhibit A was their comprehensive victory over a Manchester City side that was beginning to hit full stride with a healthy Sergio Aguero. One can only hope that Blackburn was a hiccup and this improving run of form can carry them to a Top Four finish.

Still, there are issues to resolve. For one, how does Rodgers rotate and rest players like Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling, especially with the injury bug ravaging several key players like Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva? Getting bounced from the Europa League, after the sting passes, should actually be helpful to the long-term financial fitness of the club as fewer games and less travel bodes well for a strong finish and a coveted UCL place, with its monetary benefits.

In the meantime, the return of Daniel Sturridge, while undeniably giving the team a boost, has presented Rodgers with a new puzzle to solve - how to fit last year's 20 goal scorer back into the squad without upsetting the equilibrium so recently restored. Statistics have been put forth illustrating that Sturridge does best with a strike partner up top but the formation that righted the ship plays with only one. Decisions, decisions...

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Shaping Up

More to the point, it's been a while since Ed has written anything
It’s been a while since I’ve written on Spurs, and a lot has happened.  First and foremost, Harry Kane put us past Arsenal with two magnificent goals.  Kane continues to play at a high level and pundits are wondering if this run is real or if he’s doomed to return to the norm or something below that.  We shall see.  Regardless, he seems to look like he knows how to play even if he’s not scoring, and Kane and Eriksen have become a terrific punch for Spurs.

The following week despite some good play int he first half, Spurs lost on a Mario Balotelli goal in the final minutes.  What are the odds of that happening?  Well, prior to his snatching the penalty kick ball out of the hands of his captain this week, Balotelli had about one goal for Liverpool, so I’d say the odds were pretty low.  But to be fair, this shot was really just a tap in for Super Mario, so it would have been hard to mess it up.  But what I liked most about this game was that Spurs seemed extremely annoyed and frustrated at the end of the game — as if they felt they should’ve won the game.  I can’t recall seeing a Spurs team react like that to a loss against a big Club.  Interesting, and I think a good sign.  (On an unrelated note, I’m still not sure why Brendan Rodgers thought bringing this guy in was a good idea; clearly a desperate move by a desperate manager.  But while Rodgers has Liverpool playing well with the return of Daniel Sturridge, it seems that the number of players he brought in that didn’t work out seems a luxury that only could be afforded the bigger clubs.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Stoking a Blazing Hearth: Scott on Liverpool

Scott is admiring Liverpool's form of late:

With that nail-biter of a victory over Spurs on Tuesday, I'm ready to say that Liverpool are firmly back on track and the team is starting to gel and acclimate to this season's formation and personnel changes. Yes, it all started happening far too late for a shot at the title (which was probably never a real possibility anyway) but a top 4 finish and another go in the Champions League is well within reach, present form continuing.

That Tuesday's victory was achieved without the services of Raheem Sterling is another plus. And that super-sub Mario Balotelli provided the tap-in winner is the icing on the cake, post-goal scowl notwithstanding.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Stevie G is Tired: Ruminations on the FA and League Cups

photo by twobvia PhotoRee

...from Correspondent Ed:

The League Cup and the FA Cup have taught us some lessons.  First, the difference between the top tier of English football and the middle tiers isn't that much.  Part of this is the higher level of play in the lower leagues than in the past.  Part is also that the premier league teams just aren't that good.  And of course there's that difference between teams that want it more and teams that don't. It's amazing how far hustling will get you.
But again, let's not diminish the abilities of some of these lower level teams.  Bradford City at times looked phenomenal against Chelsea-- consider their last goal, patience in a tight spot, a terrific run, and clean finish.  And so did Middlesbrough.  Dare we also say Cambridge?  Well maybe not, but they did seem to reveal the overall weakness of the fourth place team in the league.
And what if that pesky Liverpool team? Well, they looked pretty good at times against Chelsea in the league cup, even for a team without a striker.  Had that team included Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, would it have even been close?
And what of MLS bound Stevie G.?  Did he look old?  Did he look slow?  Well, in my opinion he looked the smartest man on the pitch, making great passes and runs out of an unfamiliar right forward position.  On defense, he effectively closed down Nemanja Matic on several occasions.  Consider also Steven Gerrard's replacement at the holding position, Lucas Leiva.  Lucas was certainly all over the field but his reckless tackles gave him one yellow and could easily have had him tossed out with a second yellow at least three times thereafter.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

And Now for Something Even More Boring-er

photo by Petteri Sulonenvia PhotoRee

In which Correspondent Ed questions whether Red Devils' bossman Louis Van Gaal knows what he is doing:

What happened to Manchester United?  My son can still watch them but I sure can’t.  How did a team with Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie, Radamel Falcao, and Juan Mata become so ugly?  The best part of any United game these days is watching David De Gea save them from losing to teams like, say, QPR, by launching himself all over the pitch.  No really, that IS fun.

So is Louis Van Gaal the problem?   Is his system so inflexible that it’s taking the joy out of United even though it’s resulting in wins?

According to the press, LVG has commented (or at least tried to comment — someone needs to send him a Rosetta Stone asap) that the team scores more from a 4-4-2 than his chosen 3-5-2, but that the team also doesn’t set up well in the former.  I think he means that the defense isn’t too good, and that they don’t have a good enough midfield.  I could have told him that before they dropped a ton of jingle on that loan deal for Falcao.  But I also think that the 3-5-2 doesn’t help on either side of the ball.  Is that okay to say?  I mean, this isn’t David Moyes we are talking about.  LVG may just be beyond criticism.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Stamford Bridge is Falling Down?

photo by Free-ersvia PhotoRee

Correspondent Scott may not be so happy by this time next week:

Liverpool thoroughly outplayed Chelsea in the first leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final leg at Anfield.  Unfortunately, of their 19 shots (6 on target), they only converted one, largely due to the heroic efforts of Thibault Courtois.  Meanwhile, a lackluster Chelsea squad managed only two shots with only one of those on target.  Yet, theirs being a penalty, the final score ended even and sets the stage for a must-score situation for the Reds in the return fixture.  Scotland Yard needs to investigate this most outrageous of stolen victories.
I can happily write that reports of Liverpool’s demise this season were premature.  They may not consistently keep this form through the end of the season but they are winning games and dominating top competition.  With a more settled back three of Can, Skrtl and Sakho, a re-found Lucas, the surging Moreno and Markovic, the sparingly used Gerrard, the workhorse Henderson, the shifty Coutinho and the speedy Sterling, Liverpool gave the visiting Blues much more than they could handle.  They attacked, they pressed and they eventually starting picking the locks on Chelsea’s defense.  Were it not for an unfortunate error by Emre Can who then overcommitted and bundled Eden Hazard, it would be the Reds now in pole position.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Kandy Kaned, Glovers and Stevie G.

Ed is still in the holiday mood:
Spurs are usually a team on decline in the festive season.  Too many games for too thin a squad.  But not this year.  After a scoreless draw against Manchester United (we’ll take it against that payroll), Harry Kane went big and busted up Chelsea for Spurs best win in the BPL perhaps . . . ever?

The emergence of Kane has dramatically changed Spurs.  With 17 goals in about as many games in all competitions, Spurs seem finally to have found their striker.  His emergence from the Spurs own academy makes it even sweeter.  One might be tempted to say that the team is finally catching on to Mauricio Pochettino’s direction — and I’d say there is something to that — but correlation is not equal to causation and it still remains difficult to tell.  Recall that the same was said of Brendan Rodgers brilliance when he had Suarez and Sturridge, but now that they’re gone the press would say he can’t get anything right.

Kane is not merely scoring, but he’s playing the target man especially welll, and he’s also taking the space aggressively with the dribble like few strikers I’ve seen in the league.  Kane isn’t that fast, but he’s fast enough and clever enough to use leverage and positioning to keep him in front of defenders.  He’s a pleasure to watch operate and will most certainly be called up for England in the future.

*    *    *

I should note my sorrow at the loss of the Yeovil Town Glovers at the hands of a somewhat fortunate Manchester United.  The Glovers gave 110%, and for most if not all of the match made me wonder why players like Rooney and Falcao were paid so much more than some of the players on the mid-third division team.

The FA Cup is a great competition, but at no time is it greater than the third round when premier league clubs have to play at tiny grounds throughout the country.  It’s simply a pleasure to see top tier players go against what appear to be true club teams on un-pampered (and sometimes awful) grounds.  There’s simply nothing more fun than watching Eden Hazard kick a ball into a tree behind the goal, or Steven Gerrard put one into a busy road next to the pitch.

*    *    *

Wait, did I mention Stevie G?  His departure from Liverpool will, I suspect, mark the

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Liverpool's Luck, Stevie G's Decision, And a Truly Tragic Departure

photo by Ben Sutherlandvia PhotoRee

Scott with his weekly musings:

Where to begin?  Well, I suppose I could start with the shocking news that Liverpool's luck lasted all of another 45 minutes after the Swansea game.  An unearned penalty and then an earned one, both converted by Stevie G., dictated the 2-0 scoreline at halftime.  But then the Reds conspired against themselves as they continued to play half-assed at best, allowing the last place team in the league look like the better side.  After conceding in rapid succession, they did manage a foray or two forward, but even then they managed to thwart themselves, literally shooting into each other on two separate occasions.  With several other teams dropping points, being two goals up at halftime seemed like a great way to start the new year.  But instead of being only 5 points out of 4th place, Liverpool now sit 7 points out and Champions League football next year, while still possible, seems to be fading away.  Can this all change so quickly with the return of Daniel Sturridge?  We'll know the answer to that as well as find out how the Englishman can handle pressure, hopefully within weeks.  I still have my rose colored glasses on but one lens is definitely cracked.

Just a few hours ago I had to deliver the news of Stevie G's season-end departure to my children.  Never knowing a Liverpool side without the Legend, they are still unable to comprehend a future without him.  But after I allayed their fears of a transfer to another EPL team, I was able to offer hope in the form of the conventional wisdom that says Gerrard will end up in MLS.  Not having a South Florida team, nor any tremendous pull to the league until now, they are now excited about being able to cheer an American club at some point.

As I have written before, Gerrard's influence in games has been waning and the consistent quality has not been there.  Some will point to his flashes of brilliance or his willingness to play out of position.  But, for me, with where this team is headed, it was always going to be a struggle to fit Gerrard in.  Maybe it was a coincidence that we played so well against Swansea without him and so poorly against Leicester with him.  But at the very least it is a talking point about how accommodations must be made to insert him in the lineup now.  He is still a tremendously talented player with physical attributes to spare and, of course, Brendan could make it work by limiting his games and his role so that those flashes of brilliance are the norm instead of infrequent sightings during a 90 minute shift.  But aging gracefully has never been the forte of the best of competitors.  And given that Gerrard is one of the best there has ever been, I salute his decision to move on rather than cling on. You'll Never Walk Alone, Stevie G!