Thursday, October 30, 2014

Getting in Gear: Liverpool 2 - Swansea City 1

Scott on the Capital One Cup and Not-So-Super Mario:

Well, after a dismal performance against Hull City last weekend, Liverpool looked largely lethargic in their Tuesday Capital One Cup game against Swansea. It was the Swans who looked most likely to advance, especially when they went ahead in the second half and, with only 11 min of regulation left, Brendan Rodgers replaced the ineffectual Rickie Lambert with the recently equally ineffectual Mario Balotelli. But within minutes the industrious Fabio Borini's pinpoint cross found Super Mario's lunging foot and breathed life into Liverpool's lungs. After a controversial red card, Swansea were without a key defender in injury time for a last gasp freekick, allowing Dejan Lovren to nod in after the Swansea 'keeper misjudged the cross. Lucky Liverpool seems to be a familiar refrain of late, and one that surely won't last. Get in gear Liverpool!


Surely the Reds have missed the injured Daniel Sturridge, his hereditary fragility apparently manifesting of late. But the squad has enough talent to compete against all but the very best teams even without their star striker. Rodgers must piece it together, become more creative in the final third and plug their defensive holes. 


A word on Balotelli. It seems the Italian would no doubt benefit from having a strike partner and this fan would like to see more setups with that in mind, even before Sturridge's return. And while he has not scored as often as we would like, aside from the dreadful, no-effort outing against QPR 2 weeks ago, Mario has worked decently hard and been a pretty good team player, with many of his teammates backing him to succeed. Yes, he has taken some ill-advised shots and needs to be mindful of his teammates with questioning hands in air after yet another low-percentage shot. And he has gone down very easily a few times and stayed down. But all in all, he is just a talented striker struggling to find form with a new team, shouldering nearly all the goalscoring burden, and resulting criticism.


One thing about Mario that is especially pleasing - 2 months in and we are all talking about his football and not any antics (I hear knuckles on wood). Good for you, Mario. Most are behind you and feel you can succeed. Keep up the hard, unselfish work and the goals will come.


In the meantime, let's hope the rest of Lucky Liverpool can get in gear.

This is farlieonfootie for October 30. 


Monday, October 20, 2014

Really?: Liverpool 3 - QPR 2

Scott checks in on a scrappy contest:

Liverpool limped to 3 points at Loftus Road on Saturday, courtesy of two QPR own goals, after stumbling through yet another uninspired performance.  Mario Balotelli, in particular, was underwhelming despite padding his attempted shots stats.  And Brendan Rodgers' attempt to push Steven Gerrard higher up the pitch missed as badly as the Balotelli shot that knocked the bejeezus out of the woman in the 42nd row.

Despite their relative positions in the standings, it was the home side who had the more and better chances throughout the first half as Gerrard rarely touched the ball and the rest of the squad grasped for creativity.  The lone creator was not at all a surprise - Raheem Sterling.  His penetrating runs and speed with the ball were the only dangers to unsettle a QPR team who otherwise had a relatively comfortable first half as they rattled the cross bar on two occasions and otherwise showed the visitors whose house it was.  Nothing short of pure luck and a goal-line, studs-up lunge by Glen Johnson, followed by a goal-line clearance by Martin Skrtl, kept the score level at the interval.

But, true to form, Rodgers made adjustments at halftime and Gerrard dropped deeper from the second-half kickoff.  That led to more possession by the Reds, especially in the offensive half, and a handful of opportunities as they began to press for the winner.  The pressure ultimately led to an unlikely scorer - Richard Dunne.  It was Sterling, again, who was causing the fits for QPR that resulted in the free kick that was quickly taken, crossed by Johnson and directed toward goal by Dunne who, like most of his team mates, was caught napping.

Then came 8 of the most exciting, roller coastery (Webster will be receiving my petition to make that a word) minutes I have ever witnessed.  First QPR equalized in the 87th minute before Phillipe Coutinho seemingly put the game out of reach in extra time.  But, yet again, QPR leveled and all seemed to go dark when Liverpool conceded a set piece for what would surely be the last play of the game.  QPR dinked the ball into the area and Lieverpool cleared and countered with speed.  It was as if referee Phil Dowd just wanted to see what would happen, whistle in hand.  And what happened was yet another QPR own goal to gift a very lucky Liverpool side the three points that propelled them to 5h place in the standings, despite stinking up most of their recent games.

Jose Enrique started the game and showed very quickly how out of synch he is after his long injury layoff.  Careless in possession and shaky on defense, the normally solid Spaniard made me nervous all day.  Simon Mignolet had several key stops but it was he who flapped at the ball that fell to Leroy Fer who, fortunately for the Belgium, could only ping the crossbar.  Balotelli was simply awful all afternoon.  Save for the flick that put Gerrard through in the waning moments of the first half, the Italian was so bad, selfish, and non-contributing that he wasn't merely unhelpful, he was counterproductive.  Shooting every time he could see the goal over the horizon, often still managing to put it over, he nearly single-handedly sucked the life out of LIverpool's offense and it was  wonder that Brendan left him on the whole game.

This is farlieonfootie for October 20. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Why Always Controversy?

Scott with some thoughts on Liverpool's weekend win:

This is starting to remind me of two seasons ago when it was always two steps forward then one or two back.  Liverpool played well enough to win against West Brom on Saturday but can they repeat that week in and week out?  Losing to “lesser” teams was beginning to define this season so let’s hope that has at least stopped.  In any case, 3 points were dearly needed and finally won, even if controversies continue.


For one thing, it is always troubling to see a penalty called when it is the incorrect call.  In this case, however, I’m willing to give Michael Oliver a pass.  Admittedly, this is probably easier to say given that Liverpool eventually won the game, but when a foul happens that close to the area at full speed, it can be difficult to adjudge the exact spot of the infraction.  And I thought the young referee did very well otherwise.


The larger “controversy” of course was the fact that Rickie Lambert started over Mario Balotelli.  ESPN’s Steve Nicol can claim that the move was just a natural rotation as Brendan Rodgers wanted to rest the Italian, but I’m not buying it.  If Balotelli were scoring goals, and maybe if he ever managed a facial expression that wasn’t a scowl, Rodgers would have had him starting that game.  How the Super Mario will react to the benching will tell a lot about how his tenure at Anfield will go.  Fortunately, upon entering the game in the second half, he was industrious and solid with his hold-up play and passing.  But, still, his shots weren’t particularly threatening.


I, for one, while joining the Liverpool faithful who lament Balotelli’s goal scoring paucity, am still able to see the quality in his play that could allow him to contribute mightily in the future.  His poise on the ball and vision are really impressive.  Specifically, he seems to always be aware of where his teammates are and able to make the one-touch pass or flick, not to mention the fact that he is very willing to do so.  As others have pointed out, it is still too early to judge Balotelli’s play and it could very will improve significantly upon the return of Daniel Sturridge, with his pace and ability to drag defenders with him.


In the meantime, let’s talk about Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana.  The former is able to create something out of nothing by sheer willingness to run hard.  And the latter is showing he may be fully healed as his cheeky move prior to the one-two with Henderson prompted 4 replays and the summoning of all my family members to the room to watch.  I look forward to what they can continue to create in the future.  And hopefully no more controversy.

This is farlieonfootie for October 6. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

On the Spot: Ed on Spurs, Arsenal, Jurgen Klopp and More

Ed's on the spot with some timely commentary on Spurs vs Sunderland, Jurgen Klopp and Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund:

As you all know, Spurs tied Sunderland this weekend 2 to 2.  That's three two's if you're counting. But despite the let down in the score, Spurs were dominant.  Dembele got his first start of the season with Benteleb just returning from international duty -- or at least that's what was said.  In my opinion, Dembele is the better of the two, but Benteleb certainly deserves considerable time this year in the middle.
Erikson also seems improved; in fact, he seems a step faster.  And Lamela and Chadli (Chadli!) both continue to impress.   
In some ways Spurs coughed up this game, giving up a cheap goal quickly after their first, and choking one past in the end.  But they were also unlucky; a cross bar and a post were squarely hit after good attempts, and they dominated possession and the game.  One might say Sunderland Manager Gus Poyat was just looking to score on counters such as this, but the reality is he had no choice.  His team could only win if they took advantage of the very few opportunities they were given, which of course is exactly what happened.  All in all, a good day for Spurs as they look a team headed in the right direction.  And all in all, a Premeir League that's still looking a bit of a mess at the top.
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Is this man the best coach in Europe?  

It seems to me he's in the running.  Dortmund not only ran Arsenal out of the building, they looked man for man to be the far better team.  Examining the enormous changeover at Dortmund and the loss to injury of many of their starters, it's amazing how the team hasn't missed a beat.  It would seem that no one does more with less than this guy year after year.  Again, it's strange that he has less imitators -- though I'd say that Pochettino's style is similar.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Uninspiring: Aston Villa 1 - Liverpool 0

photo by Lucas Baissovia PhotoRee

Scott is just not feeling it:

Liverpool welcomed Aston Villa on Saturday and proved to be too gracious as hosts, allowing Gabriel Agbonlahor to skewer in a loose ball in the 6 yard box that was not appropriately cleared from a corner.  That goal ended up being decisive as the Reds, sans the services of Daniel Sturridge, were unable to equalize despite controlling the entire second half.
The first half, however, showed the Villans to be a high-energy, disciplined side as they had the greater share of possession for large periods of time and threatened repeatedly.  Philippe Senderos, in particular, should have widened their margin but was unable to put his open header on frame.  Perhaps his mind was elsewhere given his bullying of Mario Balotelli throughout the game.  The Swiss defender’s antics were shameful as he repeatedly harassed the Italian defender, resorting on more than one occasion to literally kicking out at him when the ball was nowhere close.  Understandably, the referee did not see these incidents so they went unpunished.  And while Balotelli did not retaliate, it seems the damage might have been done nonetheless as he was rather impotent on the day and was eventually substituted at the 70 minute mark. 
Raheem Sterling started on the bench, which to me seemed a curious decision given Sturridge’s absence.  But with a Champions League match on Tuesday and the lessons of Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen still echoing, Brendan Rodgers chose to rest the youngster at first before sending him on to inject some creativity for the last half hour.  It was too little too late and Liverpool’s teen sensation was unable to work any brilliance to equalize.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Humble Pie: Ed on Spurs

photo by The Gifted Photographervia PhotoRee

Just when Spurs thought they were good, just when they thought they could run with the big boys, just when they thought top four might actually be possible . . . . . down comes the hammer.  Oh what a tease this team is.

Not unlike last year, Spurs were pretty much violated by Liverpool.  Mario Balotelli really should have had 3 in the first half, but somehow blundered them.  For some reason this is always the case with this guy -- tons of raw talent that almost but never really materializes.  Wonder if that will happen at Liverpool.  Wonder if at the end of the day he's really just not that effective . . . . .

But, wow, Sterling and Sturridge were just way too fast for sSurs.  As was their new defender, Alberto Moreno, who promptly took the ball from Andros Townsend and rampaged 70 yards down the field before putting it in the back of the net.  These Spurs fought hard in the first half -- Lamela in particular -- but again showed that they were a cut below this tier, even if Liverpool isn't quite top tier.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Three Points: Liverpool 3 - Spurs 0

photo by lostajyvia PhotoRee

Although happy about Liverpool's win, Scott is now officially concerned about a Manchester United lineup that could feature Falcao, Di Maria, Rooney, Mata and RVP:

Now that’s much better.  Granted, this wasn’t the steady dismantling of Spurs that Liverpool achieved twice last season.  Rather, there were a few lucky bounces and calls but more than enough to secure the points and put defeat to Man City behind them.

Raheem Sterling, should he stay injury-free and under the careful nurturing of Brendan Rodgers, will be a global star in the coming years.  I am continually impressed with his ability to dribble past, around and through defenders with such pace.  Add to that his developing ability to be in the right place at the right time, such as at the far post to guide in Jordan Henderson’s cross in the eighth minute, as well as a still-improving sturdiness that allows him to shield and protect the ball, and he is well on pace to being one of Liverpool’s top stars of all time.  Still, I agree with Rodgers’ comment, which is consistent with similar comments that leave me hoarse on the training ground of teams I coach – he needs to work on his left foot.  After such a sensational dribble through the penalty area in the second half, all that was needed was a left-footed strike to bag his brace and match the score of last season’s second encounter between these two teams.  Instead, hesitation saw him then clunk the weakest of attempts with his right foot straight at a very grateful Hugo Lloris.  Two footed players can score double the goals, Raheem!

Mario Balotelli’s Liverpool career began with what has been described as a “solid shift.”  Despite his two missed headers and woefully wayward volley later, I agree.  He did his part defensively, was creative at times and seemed very willing to play with others.  Most impressively, he kept his cool better than I would have after an over-eager Eric Dier swept his legs from behind on a hard challenge that eventually yielded a bit of the ball, and should have further yielded a yellow for the Tottenham defenseman.  Subbed around the 60 minute mark, the Italian is bound to find his groove and, when he does and if he maintains his cool, he can prove lethal up top with Daniel Sturridge and Sterling, not to mention Henderson and others, to combine with.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Shambolic United / Spurs on Top / Bruisers at City and Chelsea: Week 2 in the Barclay's Premier League

photo by Anamorphic Mikevia PhotoRee

Ed's not getting too worked up just yet:

Let's just all take a deep breath.  Exhale slowly.  Now let's take a cool, measured, unbiased look at it.
Manchester United pretty much stinks right now.
They're awful.  Losing to the MK Dons?  I mean, the Don's may be promoted next year . . . . to the Championship Division.  I realize United had a second team lineup out there, featuring such no names as Chicharito, Cleverly, Kagawa and Welbeck.  And the BPL keeper of the year De Gea.  And yet they still got absolutely poinded by the seventh place team in League One.  Ouch.
It's fascinating that Louis Van Gaal has brought this team to a low even David Moyes never reached.  Let's be fair to LvG -- had Moyes done what he's just done there may have been riots in Manchester.  Three games against poor competition and no wins to show for it.  Plus they look very much like they don't know what they're doing.  Some questions may be asked:
1.  Was changing the system really what was needed at United?  Or was it merely the players.  Is both achievable?
2.  International Soccer is completely different from the Club game as it is tactically so much simpler.  Just because the 3/5/3 worked in the World Cup doesn't mean it will work in the BPL.  And did it really work?  The Dutch were an immensely talented team but they really only scored when Arjen Robben scored.  And he pretty much scores in any system.
3.  Should tactical changes be made before personnel to match it arrives?  The BPL is to good to spot the first three months of the season to the competition.  Last I checked fourth place was three places away from last years team.  This year it could be worse.
4.  Does the pre-season mean anything?  United won the Guinness Cup and looked good doing so.  These guys are outplayed for long stretches by teams with inferior talent.
I know, it's early.  And they could turn it around.  And what's three months if the next five years are terrific.  But hey, every time is becoming squeaky bum time for United.
Plus they're just tough to watch.
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On the other end of the table -- and I mean the completely other end -- is a plucky Spurs team that dominated its weekend match against Uncle Harry's new squad, QPR.  The game was never close.  Uncle Harry just decided to put together the old 3/5/3 as well, and again it is showed a complete train wreck against a Spurs team that is looked simply dangerous.  Harry's always gotten the snub for not being a tactics guy -- a truly unfair criticism if there ever was one considering his near unparalleled success at Spurs.  That said, QPR had no idea what they were doing until they changed back to the 4/4/2.
The most positive points about Spurs are:

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Vision Check: Manchester City 3 - Liverpool 1

photo by kenteegardinvia PhotoRee

Scott may want to get his vision checked after this one:

The schedule was not kind to Liverpool given a second game away at the Etihad, but poor finishing is what really finished the Reds when they came up against Manchester City.  I wouldn't argue that City didn't deserve to win the game, but Liverpool certainly deserved to do better than they did.  After a slow start, they controlled much of the first half, creating the better chances.  The problem when you play a team like City, who are so embarrassingly blessed with talent that they have the luxury of starting Sergio Aguero on the bench, is that any chances not taken will return to haunt when an inevitable concession or two finally happens.  And that's pretty much how the game went.
Steven Jovetic seems to have shaken the bug that plagued him all of last season, scoring 2 for the home side before Aguero added a third just 23 seconds and 2 touches after coming off the bench.  Rickie Lambert's header late on was spectacularly saved by Joe Hart but the on-rushing striker had to be marked by the industrious Pablo Zabaleta who was unfortunate to bundle into his own goal.  Still, there was late drama with a deflected clearance fell kindly to Lambert who chose the wrong option when his square pass the Daniel Sturridge was intercepted.  Had Lambert shot and converted, it would have further salvaged the Liverpudlian pride and simultaneously provided a tenser finish.  Instead, Liverpool will have to continue their bedding in of new players while City continue to enjoy the teamwork that comes with a consistent squad.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

SAS 2.0

photo by angermannvia PhotoRee

Scott is so drunk on Liverpool's success we're surprised he was able to string together a relatively coherent piece this week:
So who decided to start the English Premier League the weekend right before kids go back to school in Broward County, Florida?  Clearly not anyone who earns absolutely nothing blogging about the former while trying to shuttle kids about to the latter.  Inevitably, the dearth of time to write, and resulting non-post, led to a Tottenham-like tantrum from the “I can’t possibly blog while I summer in the Hamptons” Correspondent Ed who only recently converted that season to a verb.  Making up for lost time, said Ed is clearly so “Fired Up” he had to “Pinch This” before his latest “Roundup.”  Meanwhile, the Bossman continues to claim "writer’s block" while he slings his toys from his pram and gurgles on about something like “we’ll see at the end of the season.”   Those who were there swear it was uttered in Dutch.
But I digress.  While there were several interesting games this past weekend, the one that captivated our home, and required a crimson sartorial display, was the clash between Liverpool and the team it has so remorselessly pillaged during the transfer window.  The bottom line summary of this encounter is: for a team so resoundingly burgled (well, they were fairly compensated, but that’s a really fun word to use) of their key players, Southampton gave the red Merseysiders more than just a little scare and Liverpool were lucky to win.
Despite having the most of possession, Liverpool lacked many real chances until Jordon Henderson battled for the ball and then played the most sublimely weighted and directed pass that I have ever seen.  It was as if Raheem Sterling needed not even actually kick the ball to score, but rather by simply continuing his then-present gait he would have notched the 1-0 advantage.  The Saints leveled shortly after the restart via an emphatic strike from Nathaniel Clyne, who surged forward from defense to catch, mainly Martin Skrtl, slightly out of position.  Energized by the goal, Southampton outplayed Liverpool for a period before the Reds began to assert themselves again, even if the visitors were consistently dangerous.  Ultimately, it was none other than the new SAS (Sturridge and Sterling) who combined for the winner, the latter deftly cushioning his header into the path of the former who ever-so-barely grazed the ball to guide it into the net.