The Liver Bird  

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Kuyt Strikes Again

Football - Liverpool v Bolton Wanderers Barclays Premier League
Liverpool collected 3 points yesterday along with a clean sheet and a huge sense of accomplishment as our unbeaten run continues. Despite the performance again perhaps not being as fluid as many people may like, crucially, the result was welcomed by all.

Benitez fielded a very strong XI, to the surprise of quite a few fans, he opted to start both Aquilani and Steven Gerrard, he also opted to play Kuyt behind David N'Gog, as opposed to the option of lone striker. It was a rather unfamiliar layout, although it worked.

In defence it was the same four lads from the 0-0 draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers, with Agger only just coming back from a knock, he was named on the bench but it was Insua, Skrtel, Kyrgiakos and Carragher who made up the back four.

Lucas had to settle for an appearance from the bench as Mascherano was chosen to partner Aquilani in the heart of the midfield and Riera made another appearance on the left wing.

For the majority of the first half we appeared to have carried through the disappointment of the draw with Wolves. The lads weren't linking well together and at times were even struggling to maintain possession.

Bolton capitalised on our early weaknesses and had a few chances of their own. Muamba and Chung-Yong Lee causing problems, whilst the likes of Zat Knight and Ricketts were blocking any Liverpool counter attacks.

Bolton came closest when Liverpool's defence appeared to have been beaten, when Chung-Yong Lee found himself past Emiliano Insua and already on the front foot against Kyrgiakos, he saw his chance, after shooting with some power the ball was travelling goal bound setting up an imminent early Liverpool disappointment but then, out of practically nowhere, a steam rolling Kyrgiakos makes the run back to the goal line and produces a fantastic clearance to send the South Koreans effort to safety.

As the first half went on and with the scoreline still at 0-0, Liverpool began to find their feet, the link up of Riera and Insua was becoming more and more apparent and even Gerrard was beginning to look more lively.

The first goal came with about 10 minutes left to go. Albert Riera receives the ball in the centre of midfield and makes a beautiful long range pass out to Emiliano Insua who is loitering on the edge of the box, Insua then plays the ball, Alberto Aquilani then heads it back across the face of goal, Dirk Kuyt connects and fires the ball home for his third goal in 3 games for the Reds.

Such a great piece of team work, something that has been missing from our recent ventures. It was a clear display of a well worked goal. Kudos to all the four lads involved.

Shortly after Liverpool found themselves one up against Owen Coyle's Bolton side, Chung-Yong Lee who had been something of a presence earlier found himself in Liverpool's 6 yard box, as Aquilani came in to pressurise, he went to ground, no way was this a penalty, Aquilani had not touched him, the referee had realised this, thankfully and in the procedure showed the Bolton player a yellow card.

As the half time whistle was blown, it was clear that we were not playing too bad at all, although Bolton had made a few chances for themselves, we were on the front foot, again the defence was dealing with threats well and we also had a goal cushion.

As ever though, we could do with a second in the remaining 45minutes.

Steven Gerrard started the second half in true Gerrard style, he saw two fantastic efforts saved by Jussi Jaaskelainen. His play this weekend reflected that of the Gerrard we know and love, perhaps he is now finding his feet again after injury and disappointment.

Liverpool were now maintaining a hold on the game, but even with the majority of the possession it wasn't looking as though that second goal would come. Bolton had quietened down in terms of efforts but they were defending well.

It wasn't until 70minutes when Liverpool managed to increase their lead. Emiliano Insua took a powerful shot, aimed at goal when it took a big deflection off Bolton's Kevin Davies, so much so that the effort was sent low to the right side of Jaaskelainen and rolled into the back of the net.

2-0 up less than 20 minutes to go, we were strong, we were playing with confidence, it would have been devastating had Bolton of scored. Thankfully though the lads played comparable to their early second half performance and saw out the 3 points.

With Spurs being subject to a draw with Birmingham, it was a great result for Liverpool, effectively cancelling out the draw with Wolves when Spurs managed to get 3 points. We now sit in 5th just the one point behind Spurs. Not to forget though that Manchester City are only behind us on goal difference and also have the positive of two games in hand.

However, with Manchester City's next three fixtures Hull, Bolton and Stoke. Spurs having Villa, Wolves and Wigan and finally Villa having Spurs, United and Burnley, this spells a crucial part in Liverpools season.

Our own next three fixtures are Everton, Arsenal and Manchester City. Along with our first Europa league match sandwiched between the latter two. Ideally we would obviously like to gain maximum points from these three games, even though we are fully capable of collecting 9 points, i think it is important to be realistic, 4 points from the three games for me is a bare minimum.

With that in mind, i nervously look forward to it.

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Friday, 29 January 2010

Coyle's Bolton Travel To Anfield

Liverpool enter tomorrow's clash with Bolton on the back of a 5 game unbeaten run in the Premier League. Although this makes for good reading, it does not really reflect the performances from the team.

The first win over Wolves had good aspects to it, but again we were perhaps helped when the Wolves side were weakened due to a sending off, it was only then when we managed to break the deadlock.

The Villa win, although a massive one, again did not bring many positives in terms of play from the lads. It was the magic of Fernando Torres in the dying seconds that secured the three points.

The draw with Stoke was only made acceptable due to poor results from other teams around us, again we conceded a silly late goal and should have done better.

The win over Tottenham is perhaps the only real good performance from the Reds in this collection of results, a brilliant team effort and enthusiastic stint from Dutchman Dirk Kuyt saw us keep a clean sheet and put two past Gomes.

The 0-0 draw with Wolves, was very dreary, although we defended very well and managed to get another clean sheet, the lack of chances was simply terrible.

So can this help us make a prediction as to how the boys will play on Saturday?

Well first of all, it predicts that the outcome will be unpredictable.

For a starters, re introduction of our captain Steven Gerrard may have a positive effect or as some people have been noting a more damaging one.

Take for example the Spurs game, without the likes of Torres and Gerrard in the starting XI, the rest of the players are always going to feel less pressurised, in situations where they would usually feel that difficult pass to try to feed Gerrard should be attempted they are allowed to be more creative. Sometimes this is what you need in order to break down a team like Spurs.

Any team we face are fully aware of our target men, take them out of the situation and sometimes the threat is in disguise. Spurs would not have been aware for example of the likes of Philip Degen who proved to be a very good asset in that game.

So how on earth do you try to convince yourself that Gerrard may not change the game? The fact is, you can't, every time he is on the pitch you know he can create that spark, a spark which can change a game totally, however, this usually occurs when we have an on form Gerrard, one who had been playing his football regularly.

At the moment however we have an almost rushed back skipper, one who although against Wolves was probably one of our better players was still clearly a shadow of himself.

So we have an option, do we start Gerrard? Or should we ease him back into the formation, steadily building back that lost connection with the rest of the XI? In the mean time why not start Aquilani, sit him behind Kuyt or N'Gog, as he did against Spurs, and let the football flow more freely?

It does seem a ludicrous idea, but one worth thinking about.

A prediction perhaps more easy to make for once is the ability of the defence. I have been very impressed with Kyrgiakos of late, along with Carra doing well in his un-favoured position and Insua, in general doing the trick. I feel we have been strong at the back for once. However, Martin Skrtel although obviously a good player has been questionable of late, if Agger is available, i would rather start him for Saturday's clash.

Another guess you could take is that Kuyt will again be in the role of lone striker, this seemed to work when he had Aquilani sitting behind him but on Tuesday night, it did not work at all. Riera was the man with the most attacking nous at Molineux and even his efforts were unfruitful.

So what can we predict by looking at Bolton?

They have conceded 9 goals in their last 5 league fixtures and scored 6.

This perhaps indicates a slight weakness at the back but in all fairness two of those fixtures were against Arsenal.

Gary Cahill is their top scorer, with 5 goals in the premier league. With a defender as top goalscorer, it is clear Bolton are threatening from set piece play.

This could cause a problem for Liverpool, as it is usually corners and free kicks that cause a goal deficit. However, as i mentioned earlier, the defence has been improving of late so hopefully they will be able to deal with it tomorrow.

Stat Sandwich:
  • At Anfield Liverpool have have won the last seven meetings between the two clubs and have conceded only one goal.
  • Bolton last won in the league at Anfield in 1954.
  • Liverpool are aiming to keep a third clean sheet in succession for the first time in the league this campaign.

I expect tomorrow's fixture to be quite a scrappy affair, after the 3-2 victory earlier in the season though, i do not expect to see another goal fest, both sides have changed since the last meeting, one has a new manager and i just can't see it being a repeat.

So, considering i have based a lot of this post on "predictions" i suppose i should predict the score and this time out i am punting for a rather boring 1-0. I think the defence is still key in this outcome, if they can continue to play as they have been doing then the "nil" aspect is a no brainer, in contrast though, the attack has been struggling, however i feel the likes of Reira or Kuyt will manage to get something out of the Bolton side.

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Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Liverpool Fail To Attack Wolves


Liverpool were held to a very frustrating and disappointing 0-0 stalemate last night at Molineux. For my first ever experience of seeing the lads play, there weren't too many positives.

After meeting Kenny Dalglish moments before i sat down to watch the match, i was beginning to think nothing could top that now, and it didn't. I also met that Farley bloke after he came into the boardroom to do some of his now famous Liverpool impressions, however, the match that followed would not provide much to smile about.

So the first shock of the night came when i was handed the team sheet in the boardroom, i could not believe Gerrard was starting, i knew it was now highly likely that he would be on the bench, but i would never of guessed he would of started let alone play the full 90minutes.

I was glad to see the likes of Kyrgiakos, Riera, Carragher and Reina on too, all for different reasons. One thing that did puzzle me slighlty was the option of Kuyt on his own. Although i know it has worked in the past, against a Wolves side i would have rather started the skillful David N'Gog.

Despite this, i was generally happy with the team Rafa had fielded and i couldn't wait to get outside to actually see them all for the first time. Unfortunately, due to my job i did miss the first 10minutes (ish) as i have to cash up and fill out sheets, but i can't moan at a free ticket!

After glancing over towards the away end and noting that it was rammed, i settled for sitting in the Billy Quiet with me fella and the rest of the Wolves lot. I was on the end of a row though so my mumbled frustrations were not heard by many. As always i had my trusty This Is Anfield badge on my bag and another on my coat, which was looked at confusingly by a few fans at half time, i didn't opt for getting my scarf out of my bag though and putting that on... Although i was soddin' freezin!

So Liverpool appeared to have started the first half in a very relaxed manner, no real urgency, we appeared quite happy to be passing the ball from defence to midfield, maintaining possession and instead of enforcing the chances, we waited until they arose... Which they didn't.

Passing wise, we were excellent, players like Kyrgiakos and Mascherano were very effective in getting the ball around the field but what appeared to be missing was that last bit of je ne sais quoi.

Albert Riera was our best supply attacking wise and when you look at the stats, it makes quite pitiful reading...


Whichever way you look at it, our set up did not work, whilst it was very effective defensively and allowed us freedom of the pitch, we were easily being cancelled out by the Wolves defence.

Wolves to be fair to them played very well, in all honesty, i have to say, they played much better than ourselves, mainly because, even though their attacking options were also sparse, for once, when the opportunities arose they took them a lot better than we did. Although they did not manage to punish, they did trouble Reina more so than we troubled Hahnemann.

Matthew Jarvis, who i highlighted in my preview, appeared to be causing some problems for Jamie Carragher, who again started as right back. Kevin Doyle by far though, was the man to point out for Wolves, he is quite simply in a totally different class to the rest of the team, whilst others are ball watching and in no rush to change the game, the young Irishman was constantly chasing down lost causes, battling through our tight defence and showing sheer determination.

Our defence was the key, many people have been complaining, some even saying that this result and our performance was an abomination, in many ways, yes it was, the lack of chances was simply terrible, but as i said in my preview, i had a feeling the on form Marcus Hahnemann would be hard to beat without the ingenuity and skill of Fernando Torres on the pitch.

Looking at it with a clear head though, we must be thankful that we managed to come away with a clean sheet and a point, because we were lucky not to have conceded and this was down to a good stint from the back four.

Despite Carragher having a few problems with Jarvis and Skrtel having a few of his own dodgy moments, they worked very well as a unit. None more so than the ever improving Sotirios Kyrgiakos.

I couldn't see much of the Greek in the first half due to him being down the other end and me stupidly forgetting to take my glasses, however, by the second half he was in clear view. He was fantastic. Again, he won almost every aerial battle. His passing again was perfect and it is clear he has passion and fight in him. Very impressed.

So really, in all honesty, i can't see how we can complain, yes we should be very disappointed, especially after Spurs managed to beat Fulham too, but the fact of the matter is, it just didn't work.

Even with the reemergence of the skipper, Gerrard's magic was again missing, we shouldn't have to rely on the captain all the time for that spark, but that is what a lot of people were doing. Perhaps we went into the game taking Wolves too easily, with the wrong mindset? I don't know, but whatever it was the 0-0 directly reflected our efforts, a strong defence and a weak attack is what saw us gain just the one point and not 3.

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Monday, 25 January 2010

It's Been Too Long

So, the day is finally here. The day i have waited for since watching Liverpool intently for the first time on the television at the age of about six. For 14 years, my love of Liverpool Football Club has grown and grown, as i learnt more, i felt more in touch with a club based some 77 miles away from the town i call home.

Being based in Wolverhampton never really poses questions to your club loyalty until of course the local team gets back into the Premier League as of this season.

My family are all Wolverhampton Wanderer's fans aside from a cousin who supports West Brom and a cousin and Uncle who are Liverpool fans. My partner is also an avid Wolves supporter which makes Tuesday night even tastier.

My brother, who was a Liverpool fan, and was the reason i started supporting the Reds in the first place is now an avid Wolves supporter, so much so that on Tuesday night he will be in the home end. Despite what he makes out though, i know that deep down his love for Liverpool is still there.

For me on Tuesday night, one way or another i will be witnessing Liverpool play their football for the first time - ever.

Past attempts in gaining tickets have failed, and now with my current job fixture clashes and a general lack of money have constantly prevented me from getting to a match.

But as you all know by now, my job has it's perks, once i have taken all my bets upstairs and cashed up i am free to try and get a seat in the away end, i just hope to god there is one left, just one.

Failing this i will either stand to the sides of the away section or be forced to keep quiet in a stand full of Wolves supporters! As much as i don't want this i will take any seat or angle for me to see the lads play.

I can't begin to describe how excited i am, the best i can do is probably ask you to think about your own first time watching the lads play, your first match at Anfield, and although you were probably all very young, i can guarantee you, that is the measure of adrenaline that i am feeling now.

Gerrard, Torres, Benayoun and Johnson are unfortunately four big players that i will probably not see, although Gerrard is rumoured to have been back in training and was aiming for a Wolves return, even if he is named on the bench i doubt he will make the start.

With NEZ and Kelly still out too and a doubt hanging over Daniel Agger, i shall have to look forward to the other lads playing.

For my own entertainment and selfish point of view, the players i hope he starts would be Reina, Carragher, Aquilani, N'Gog, Riera and Kyrgiakos. Chances are that list will probably start.

As for the opposition well they are without Kightly, Maierhofer, Keogh and Dave Edwards. Most other options should be available though.

Again, the only worries for me really are the likes of Matthew Jarvis and Kevin Doyle. To a Liverpool side the others should not really pose much of a threat.

New signing Geoffrey Mujangi Bia, played his first match against Crystal Palace in the FA Cup on the weekend so could possibly be someone to keep an eye on. Pronounced "Joffrey" by the way... apparently.

Another one to keep an eye on is Ebanks-Blake, no longer as a threat but more so really as a measure of our own performance, if he is causing problems for the defence, then trust me, the defence is not playing up to scratch.

If he scores? The defence may as well resign.

Hahnemann will probably be the choice of goalkeeper for Mick McCarthy and from my reckoning he's a pretty good keeper, will be tough to beat without the likes of Fernando Torres.

So with everything put into one pot, my prediction is going to be a 2-0 Liverpool win. Last time out i said Liverpool 2-1 because i thought that Wolves would trouble our shaky defence at the time, now however, even though Wolves did play pretty well for the first half against us at Anfield, our defence is back on track and i just don't think they will manage to get one in the net.

Enjoy the match folks, i hope we can continue to improve after that great win over Tottenham Hotspur, 3 points here would do the world of good and i want my first match to be a winner!

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Sunday, 24 January 2010

View From The Other Side

Right, as most of you now know, i am the loving girlfriend of a Wolverhampton Wanderers fan...

Mad?

Yes maybe he is :P, but as promised here is the view from the other side as it were. If you would like to keep up to date with his blog you can also follow him on Tumblr here, and his Twitter is @RichTWISI.

Enjoy, i can feel the rivalry building up already.

My match preview shall be up tomorrow.

In the build up to the Anfield game a month ago, there was a strange optimism around most Wolves fans, a sort of 'bring on Liverpool' attitude. That's because we were on a run of three wins from four while Liverpool just been beaten at Portsmouth and all in all, were having a pretty disastrous season. And while we gave a good account of ourselves for an hour, Stephen Ward was (eventually) sent off, and a touch of class from Steven Gerrard tipped the balance in their favour.

Fast forward a month and things could not be more different. Since then we have not won in the league or even scored a goal, an unconvincing cup win at Tranmere our only success. While, cup defeat against Reading aside, Liverpool have been improving, with two wins and a draw from their three league games.

The mood is much different around these parts, we are currently out of the bottom three only on goal difference and face some crucial make or break games in the coming month.

While I am one of the most optimistic of Wolves supporters, I have to say I am not feeling very confident ahead of Tuesday night's game. After witnessing our disappointing display against Wigan last week, it is clear we are going to have to up our game – big time.

A slight comfort to me is that Liverpool are likely to be without Gerrard or Torres. I've heard Gerrard could be in with a chance, but from what I know of Rafa Benitez, he doesn't just throw players straight back into the side. However, I caught the game against Tottenham last week, and while Liverpool weren't always convincing, they dealt with Spurs without too much fuss.

In games at home to the bigger sides this season, we've made pretty good starts but in the end been hammered. I remember the second halves against Arsenal and Manchester City been pretty difficult to sit through as they passed it around us with three goal leads while their fans 'ole'd'.

I fear the same on Tuesday. There is a definite gulf in class between the sides at the top and the sides at the bottom, the extent is terrifying at times. But the first goal may be key. In our best result of the season, our 1-0 win at Tottenham, we got an early goal and held on. We did similar in December victories over Bolton and Burnley. Too many times, mostly to sides we should be looking to beat, we've lost the first goal early (Birmingham, Hull, Portsmouth, even at the bloody weekend against Crystal Palace!!). We didn't win any of those games. If we do go down, it will because we didn't beat these sides around us on our own turf.

Without wishing to patronise, if you don't know much about Wolves, the names you might know are Michael Kightly and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake. The former is injured and has been for what seems like forever, whilst the latter is a shadow of his Championship self with just one goal this season, from the penalty spot.

So who should you look out for? Kevin Doyle and Matt Jarvis are our two most potent threats and on his day Nenad Milijas can be deadly. We need these three to perform at their best to stand any chance. Of Liverpool, obviously without Torres and Gerrard, I would say Albert Riera is a big threat if he plays, along with Dirk Kuyt.

I can't wait for the game, this is what we're in the Premier League for. The atmosphere will be pumping at the South Bank will be standing. If I was going to make an honest prediction, on current form I'd say that we'd lose, but I'm going to be more optimistic and pump for a draw.

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Thursday, 21 January 2010

Support Supplies Emphatic Victory Over Spurs


Anfield Road was filled last night with scarves, banners, red shirts and chants. Quite simply the best supporters in the land lined the street more than an hour before kick off to cheer in the team coach.

Living up to the proud traditions and history of "The Liverpool Way" fans in unison came together for the good of the team, all with the sole aim of letting the lads and the manager know, they will never walk alone.

No matter how you try to question it, or try to think of a comparable moment the fact is you will not. Never have i seen, or will i ever see a club's fan base turn up, plaster the streets before a mid season fixture to show complete and utter support for their beloved team.

Manchester United? No. Chelsea? Well let's face it, they don't know what faith is, let alone how to back the manager...

A night like Wednesday makes you proud to be a Liverpool fan wherever you are and whatever the outcome was set to be, because that display of support you will NOT find anywhere else.

Rafa Benitez fielded an XI consisting of regulars, Pepe Reina, Carragher, Mascherano, Lucas and Kuyt along with Kyrgiakos, Degen, Riera, Aquilani, Skrtel and Insua. Playing 4-5-1 it was Kuyt up front as the lone striker.

Many doubters of the Dutchman were soon hushed as the fully pumped number 18 made it his duty to send home a brilliant ball which he received from the ever aware Alberto Aquilani.

After Aquilani had made the space, Kuyt was already on a run into the box, with a perfectly timed ball through the Italian's pass set Kuyt up beautifully and he sent the ball past the right side of Spurs keeper Gomes with just 6minutes gone on the clock.

You have to go back to the Wigan game in December to find the last goal we scored within the first ten minutes of a game. Sometimes these early goals are just what you need, whereas other times, they are exactly what you don't want.

You know the old saying of "They scored too early." I was beginning to think this would be dripping from many a pundits mouth at the full time result, thankfully it wasn't.

With the scoreline kept at 1-0 until 90minutes, this was no coincidence.

Sotirios Kygriakos, the big Greek defender purchased with the last few pennies Rafa had available, people actually laughed when the long haired number 16 held up that scarf with Benitez back in August, the word "flop" was already being written in most newspapers.

Roll forward to January 2010 though, Kyrgiakos is given a chance to break into the squad after more injury trouble struck the back four of Liverpool. After a brilliant performance against Stoke and even getting on the score sheet, still sceptics were wondering whether he could put in a repeat performance against the attacking threats of Tottenham Hotspur.

Repeat it? He smashed through and past it.

Quite easily the best player on the pitch bar the credit given obviously to goalscorer Dirk Kuyt, the centre back won every single header, he was strong, got stuck into tackles, supplied crosses a winger would be proud of, made sure he was there or there abouts when the corners were being whipped in, had a 100% passing success rate and showed sheer passion in his performance.

Roll back again to summer 2009 and let's dig up a few Rafael Benitez quotes:

"He is strong and good in the air, and we were looking for experience and he is the perfect answer."
"He can score goals and will be a threat from corners and free kicks."
Less like an analysis of his previous performances, more so a prediction for his Liverpool ones to come, i don't know what more you have to see to note that Benitez is knowledgeable in the transfer market, i suppose i could always run off Alonso, Garcia, Benayoun, Mascherano, Reina and Torres again, but the proof is in the pudding.

On the back of that performance he more than deserves to start against Wolves on Tuesday night, i for one hope he does.

Another man to note was the already highly criticized Alberto Aquilani, having played 80 minutes he barely put a foot wrong. His highlight of the game was by far the assist he provided to Dirk Kuyt for our first goal, but not to be missed was his work ethic.

A lot of pundits have come out in recent weeks claiming that when he is on the pitch he does not appear to be trying, some even calling him lazy. Last night's performance was far from lazy, constantly finding himself in acres of space due to his movement he was a vital link in midfield, his passing again was good and a few of his crosses also nearly led to more punishment for Spurs.

Riera, another hard worker worth pointing out, just back from injury he had a good spell on the left wing, plenty of threatening crosses and at one stage even found himself close to scoring with a great header that he saw hit off the crossbar.

Degen, again was excellent, the only moment of frustration being when he found himself in front of goal, the crowd begging for him to shoot and he opted to attempt the square to Kuyt, it didn't work, he should have just smashed it but by no means is that a shadow on another top performance from the Swiss.

So the combination of a refreshed Liverpool team mixed with a lacklustre Spurs is what kept the scoreline at 1-0. Although Spurs found themselves often in possession, they were unable to keep it, passing from the likes of Defoe and Bale were just two examples of how nervous Spurs looked.

The best chance they had was when Defoe found himself chasing a misplaced pass from Kyrgiakos, when Reina managed to get to the ball before Defoe and attempted to replay it to the defence it appeared as though he was fouled, Defoe took his chance and put the ball in the net but the whistle had already been blown.

At first i thought it was because Pepe had been fouled but apparently it was because Defoe was judged offside, in my book if Defoe was offside when the Spurs player played the ball but he was not offside when the touch came from Kyrgiakos and then Reina. A slightly confusing matter which i still can't suss out but the fact of the matter is i have no sympathy for Tottenham, firstly because we've taken a shed load of bad decisions in our last few matches and secondly because in all fairness i didn't think they deserved it.

90minutes, David N'Gog has only been on the pitch for 10 minutes and is blatantly taken out by Bassong, for a man who forgot to put his shorts on, this was not a very good idea.

Dirk Kuyt steps up to take the penalty and strikes it perfectly, with power and accuracy he drives the shot into the net only to be told he must take it again.

For a guy who was clearly devastated after missing that last gasp chance to take all 3 points from the Britannia he was calm and composed last night, just when he needed to be and with no hesitation at all he thumped the second effort past Gomes.

I haven't been this happy over a Liverpool result in a long time, with the combination of fans gathering before the game, a pumped Anfield, Rafa getting the last laugh, Spurs getting done by a real top 4 team and the fact that the gap has now been closed to just one point.

Well...

In my book, that's bragging rights until at least February whatever happens.

With Wolves up next you should definitely tune in for my match preview and match report. For those of you that don't know why it will be especially tasty, i direct you to this post and this post.

Until then.

YNWA

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Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Benitez Vs Redknapp


One can't put a foot wrong, loved by the footballing public wherever he goes and respected for his managerial record, the other is an outcast, mocked by the media, mocked by opposition fans and even disrespected by some of his own. So what makes Harry Redknapp so acceptable yet Benitez's record is not even enough for him to be supported in a season unfamiliar to his reign?

Harry Redknapp is no doubt (in general) a good manager, with times at Bournemouth, West Ham, Portsmouth, Southampton and now Spurs, his record is not all that bad.

His first key moment in his managerial career was when he took Bournemouth out of division three in the football league after securing promotion in the 86/87 season.

With West Ham he managed to turn them into a steady Premier League side and won the Intertoto Cup (Haha, remember that one?).

Again with his stints at Portsmouth, he was generally regarded as successful and on his second time out he won them the FA Cup and got them their highest ever league table finish.

Southampton however is the one people appear to brush under the carpet, however, i won't.

To cut a long story short he was unable to keep them in the Premier League, after supposedly being unhappy with the appointment of Clive Woodward to the coaching staff (nothing to do with the re-vacant Portsmouth job i assume), Redknapp resigned.

Not the first time Redknapp has been "unhappy" with club goings on, his first stint at Portsmouth ended in him resigning after a dispute with the owner over the newly appointed assistant and director of football.

No sign of fight there then? Or passion for the club? I'll just up and leave no matter what the circumstances. He left Southampton in a boat with no sail or paddles, and in the ocean that is The Championship, many say he did not help Southampton's demise.

You should try managing a club riddled with debt, under owners who target German's behind your back for the job you are currently trying to do.
-Now that's a manager with passion for the club.

So now he finds himself at Tottenham Hotspur, a club that has always had a decent squad, with star players already present when he got there and guaranteed a transfer budget which could actually impose an impact onto the side, he eventually bolstered his side buying back Robbie Keane, getting Defoe from his old Portsmouth side etc etc and he currently finds himself and his team in 5th place, 4 points above Liverpool.

So let's make some comparisons...

Harry Redknapp wins the FA Cup with Portsmouth in 2008, acknowledging the fact that to win the cup with a side like Portsmouth is obviously a great feat, their fans were ecstatic.

Rafael Benitez wins the FA Cup with Liverpool in 2006, despite us not having won the competition since 2001, although fans celebrated at the time, it is still not considered as a good enough reason to be added to the respect for Benitez. Yes of course Liverpool winning the FA Cup is not as surprising as Portsmouth doing so but why is Redknapp praised for it yet Benitez's successful efforts are shunned?

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Harry Redknapp takes Portsmouth to their highest ever table finish in the 06/07 season, finishing in 9th with 54 points. Again, it is sometimes taken out of perspective as people will say achieving something like that with a club like Portsmouth is hard work, but is it?

Rafael Benitez takes Liverpool to 2nd in the Premier League in the 08/09 season, finishing on a tally of 86 points, the highest points tally the club has seen since it's time in the Premier League.

I'm sorry but taking Liverpool, the club that has not been in a title race as close as that since i was born is a much bigger accolade than sealing 9th with a decent Portsmouth side.

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Harry Redknapp wins the Intertoto Cup with West Ham, he is remembered forever.

Rafael Benitez wins the biggest competition in Europe - The Champions League, a competition which we were not a presence in until he arrived and people claim it was a fluke? That it is not enough to prove his managerial abilities despite the fact he took us back to the final in 07.

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Harry Redknapp has a very poor season with Southampton and they are eventually relegated.

Rafael Benitez starts this season in a rather shaky manner, the season continues to be a bad one for Liverpool but he remains at the helm, determined to fight.

Redknapp's Southampton moment is forgotten, yet Benitez's half-season is used as gun powder to the final cannon aimed at his managing position.

Not forgetting of course the fact that Redknapp tells his players that his "...missus could have scored it.", yet it's Benitez who is targeted for apparently mis-treating a Tweeting Dutchman. Then there's his constant bust ups and disagreements with boards/directors/staff, even Benitez keeps a calm head on things despite being under the worst owners in the footballing world.

Oh and then there's allegations for tax dodging, being involved in the whole tapping up of players scandal.

Is this really, truly what football deems as a good, respectful national treasure in the game? Because i soddin' well don't.

I seriously hope that Benitez gets the last laugh on his over-hyped opposition tomorrow night. Not only because we need those vital three points but because, he DESERVES the respect.

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Sunday, 17 January 2010

It Felt Like A Loss

Right just to clear this up before i go on with my comments etc, due to being at work when the match was on my only view of it was from a television which was pretty far away, also with no sound and although i saw pretty much the whole match i was not able to watch it as intently as i usually would due to having to serve customers at the same time. Also, i would usually watch the analysis on MOTD, but i was celebrating me fella's and a mates birthday last night so missed that too.

I managed to catch, which were as far as i am aware the three main moments for Liverpool, the Lucas booking, the Kyrgiakos goal and the Kuyt chance right at the end. I also saw Huth's goal clearly. What i did miss however was a lot of Maxi Rodriguez, i saw him brought on in place of Degen but did not manage to catch enough of his performance to make a personal comment.

Right so Benitez fielded a strong XI under the circumstances. He also gave a chance for Kyrgiakos to make an impact on the first team. Mascherano also featured after being back from suspension and N'Gog was also back after the injury blow to Fernando Torres.

From what i could see, for the first 15 minutes or so we seemed to be matching a very physical Stoke side, and although we were looking a bit nervy still when free kicks and corners were coming in, we were handling the Potters well.

When Delap was substituted at roughly 20 mins, it was looking as though Liverpool would finally be in for a bit of luck, his threat from his now famous long throw ins are always damaging and especially so for a Liverpool side not dealing well with set play at the moment. When the ball is whipped in at such height and pace, it can often lead to goals.

However, lady luck was set to avoid us again, for a starters, it appears that Delap has taught his craft to pretty much the rest of his fellow Stoke players as even when he was taken off there were still plenty of aerial throw ins being made.

And secondly, Lucas Leiva was brought down in the penalty box by Danny Higginbothom, to the sheer shock of fans and players alike Lee Mason, instead of awarding the penalty showed Lucas a yellow card for simulation. Unbelievable.

Again, even though i had a shuttered view of what was going on, i think it would be fair to say the first half result reflected our efforts. The only real effort from Stoke i can recall was when a back tracking Pepe Reina had to deal with an effort from a corner, the only real worrying moment for a steady looking Liverpool side.

The chance was only given to Liverpool when Philip Degen was fouled to the right side of the box and Fabio Aurelio stepped up to take the free kick.

With the area filled with phantom away tops, the presence of Kyrgiakos was far from ghostly.

In a some what untidy fashion the Greek eventually managed to get the last touch and turn the ball into the net.

In the run up to the late, late Stoke equalizer Liverpool saw Degen and David N'Gog leave the field, replaced by Maxi Rodriguez and Alberto Aquilani.

Despite several threatening moments from Stoke, namely from corners, Reina had made the saves, and he and the defence were handling the Stoke attacks well. Although the forward play and passing of Liverpool was becoming rather shoddy, vitally it appeared the defence was settled and that we were going to hold on to a crucial 3 points.

But, again, those two scenarios, set piece and a late time on the clock meant Liverpool were about to be punished.

From the initial corner, the ball found it's way back into the box, when Higginbotham headed the ball back across goal it was ex Chelsea player Robert Huth who made sure his effort was sent home from close range. Heartbreaking.

Mercifully though, results appear to have gone Liverpool's way. After Everton managed to beat Manchester City 2-0, Tottenham drew with Hull and today Aston Villa completely missed the chance to capitalize by drawing with West Ham, Liverpool are not left trailing.

In all fairness a draw from the Britannia is nothing to be ashamed of but yesterday, it felt devastating. It felt just like a loss. Thankfully though, today, it is not as damaging.

With Spurs next up in the week, there is no need to explain the boost that would give us, all we can do now is look ahead towards that match and hope that the lads put in a good performance.

Might i just end on the note that i would like to congratulate the travelling fans who were at the Britannia yesterday, and the support they supplied to Benitez. No matter how you feel about the manager at this moment in time, the worst thing that could of happened yesterday is fans turning on the manager and voicing their anger via chants.

It takes REAL supporters and REAL fans to follow a side through thick and thin, good times and bad and how they reacted yesterday was the perfect representation of what Liverpool is.

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Friday, 15 January 2010

Britannia Could Be Brutal


With the rather pitiful defeat to Reading midweek, the re-immersion of calling for Rafa's head, injuries to Torres, Gerrard and Benayoun, Ryan Babel stirring on Twitter, countless articles highlighting our terrible run of results, papers bigging up talk that we will "do a Leeds" and almost every member of the Liverpool faithful struggling to find an upside to this downward spiral, the trip to Stoke is not exactly looking to be a lifeline.

The Britannia Stadium for a starters is not a nice place to go, one of the noisiest grounds in the country, Stoke fans with their own chants and no doubt jibes for the Liverpool side will be in their element at kick off on Saturday.

With an injury list full with key players, it makes you wonder whether we can pull off a win with such a different looking side.

However, to try and look at things positively, Mascherano is back from suspension, Aquilani will no doubt be given another chance to impress, Maxi Rodriguez has been named in the squad, chances may be given to the likes of Pacheco and Reina looks set to return after picking up a slight knock.

In some sort of very strange way, perhaps this new feel to the squad, without Gerrard and without Torres could provide a breath of fresh air to the season. You get the feeling that without the two main men on the pitch, the others will not feel as pressurised, being able to relax in your football can provide great things, i just hope this is what will happen tomorrow.

Stoke do not have many injury worries and news this morning about them pulling out of a deal to sign Portsmouth and ex Liverpool keeper : David James will be music to Liverpool fans ears.

Tony Pulis has also spoke out this morning warning Stoke that Liverpool are fully capable of a backlash. He also pointed out that he feels Rafa has been very unlucky:
"Rafa has been very unfortunate with injuries this season. He's been unfortunate that even when those players have been playing they haven't been at 110 percent like they were last year."
It is nice to see a manager who at least understands the ins and outs of Rafa's current situation and shows the man respect.

I can't even begin to predict what the scoreline will be, because i simply do not know.

If I'm honest I'm not looking forward to watching this game, not only because anything could happen but i am in fact at work, so i shall be having to watch the game in the boardroom at Molineux whilst taking bets and trying to be polite to customers who on this day i won't really want to be talking to.

Roll on being taken the mick out of and constantly being distracted from the game. Ugh.

There has to be an upside to this season eventually? Surely to God.

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Thursday, 14 January 2010

Liverpool Crash Out Of FA Cup


I asked in my last blog post whether Liverpool could mount a serious challenge in the FA Cup, the answer?

A resounding no.

Even if that fluky own goal from Bertrand was what allowed us to scrape through, i still wouldn't have felt confident even against Burnley on the basis of that performance.

Very disappointed and it truly does feel like a new low at this moment in time, this loss is not like any other from the rest of the season, this one feels like a turning point.

Question is, what will be the change? Because all i know is the lads need a massive boost. Soon.

The starting 11 was again a very strong one put out by Rafa, who realised the importance of progress through the competition. With the only exception perhaps being Cavalieri in goal and Degen starting due to Johnson still being out, it was a full force team from the boss.

Even with the majority of our key players on the pitch, the spark was never there. Reading appeared comfortable for the majority of the first half and it wasn't until dot on half time that their efforts were undone.

Steven Gerrard saw a speculative effort deflect goal bound off the on loan Chelsea player Ryan Bertrand. This goal summed up our first half display to be honest - Lucky.

Lucky to still be in with a shout, i remember thinking before the goal came in that half time could not come sooner, after fading and fading and the disappointment of seeing Torres leave the pitch we needed the break.

Second half i thought we found a slight bit of composure, there was definitely spells of good passing and movement but none to which anything was produced from. As i said in my new Tumblr blog at half time, i still felt Reading had plenty left in the tank.

To make things worse, Gerrard did not re-appear from the tunnel for the second half and was replaced with Ryan Babel.

Reading however could not find the answer to send this game to extra time within free play. It was a penalty decision that in the end allowed them to level up the scoreline at 93minutes.

I still feel the decision was slightly controversial, most people i have spoken to thought it was a stone-waller, but some people, like myself did feel he made a meal of it and that on several occasions referee's have shunned those calls.

Without falling back on excuses i just felt this needed pointing out because it requires comparison to the Aquilani incident which occurs in extra time.

Upon jumping for a header, which he was prevented from even getting his head to, Aquilani was quite obviously impeded in the box by a Reading defender who was smothering the Italian, hands all over him and clearly attempting to prevent his attack.

For me, this was the real bad decision, again, i don't like to fall back on excuses but Phil Dowd was simply wrong.

Reading managed to find their winning goal at 100minutes in all fairness, it was a very good goal, a great cross from Gunnarsson was met by Shane Long's glancing header. Notable point to add was that Skrtel who had been brought on at extra time for Degen (I still can't really figure this one out) had rings run around him by Long when the cross was coming in, far too easily he was allowed to get into space. This perhaps adds another question... If Carragher was still in the centre would the Reading striker have been given so much freedom?

Degen was by far the best player on the pitch for me, at first it was all invasive runs into the opposition half and i did not see much of his defensive accolades, however as the game went on, he made sure he was tracking back if a threat was on and gained possession from several crunching tackles.

For people (mainly the Twitter/Facebook/Forum folk) who have been calling for him to be sold in this window after barely even seeing enough to make a fair decision of him, i sincerely hope they think twice.

With Johnson out for at least a month, why sell to buy another RB when we appear to have a very effective one already. Yes, OK this performance was against Reading but not even the likes of Benayoun, Gerrard (when on) or Aquilani could shine against the weaker opposition. Credit fully deserved for the Swiss international.

And so with Benayoun's chance sent straight at the keeper, Lucas's header sent nowhere and Aquilani's one wide. Liverpool exit the FA Cup, and far from in style.

Where do we go from here?

With finding ourselves out of the League Cup, FA Cup and Champions League, our only slim chance at silverware is the Europa League, and you get the feeling that chance is becoming thinner and thinner.

What i do know is we must focus on the league and fully get behind the lads. They know they were a shambles, is it right to "boo" them off the field though? I still find myself strongly against that sort of reaction.

With Stoke up next, all we can focus on is three points and providing our utmost support for the lads and the Gaffa, because no matter how you feel or which way you look at it, it is VITAL that we continue to capitalize on our somewhat small run of two wins in the league.

With the Spurs game being cancelled and now this deflating result in the FA Cup, that train of confidence (if it was there) from the wins over Wolves and Villa has now been shattered. Defeat against Stoke could be disastrous.

No further news on the injuries to Gerrard, Torres and Benayoun, however they are due to have scans today to see the extent of the damage. I only hope, it is not too serious in all three cases.

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Tuesday, 12 January 2010

FA Cup: Can We Mount A Challenge?

Liverpool face Reading for the second time tomorrow night at Anfield in the hope that take two will be enough to break the earlier deadlock between the two clubs. With the winner progressing and facing Burnley at home for the next fixture, the prospect of challenging for the FA Cup is becoming more and more realistic.

Benitez fielded a very strong 11 for the last meeting, and opted to keep in Reina, Carragher, Gerrard and Torres. I should imagine that it will be a similar team put out from the Gaffa again for this replay, Benitez has made it clear that he is taking the competition seriously and is determined to mount a respectable challenge.

Liverpool appeared to struggle slightly against Reading last time out but this was mainly down to a belief filled Royals side who also had the home advantage. You get the feeling that at Anfield, we will come out victorious.

With a draw leading to extra time and then penalties, i would always fancy ourselves in that situation, so the only option for me of devastation is if Reading manage to win within the 90minutes.

Goal wise, we are fully capable, defence wise? I still feel uneasy, although there has been clear improvements, with Johnson out and Insua being a bit shaky of late, it does make you think twice.

Reading have made two new signings so far in the transfer window - Andy Griffin and Gunnar Thorvaldsson however neither will feature for the replay as they were not registered for the first leg. Injury wise Reading still have 6 players either undergoing treatment or only just coming back into training.

Top goalscorers Sigurdsson and Rasiak should both be available along with scorer from the last meeting Simon Church.

Liverpool are without NEZ, Kelly and Johnson. Although some good news in the fact the Albert Riera should be available.

Stat Sandwich:
  • Liverpool have won all three meetings against Reading at Anfield.
  • Reading have only kept one clean sheet in their last 19 games (all competitions).
  • Liverpool have only ever lost one penalty shoot out in their history.
It would be great to watch the lads have a really good game and do it in style, complete with clean sheet and 2+ goal tally but realistically i can see Reading finding the net again if i am honest, and by that my prediction is a 2-1 win.

Part of me actually wants it to go to extra time and penalties just for entertainment value, but I'll take a win whichever way it comes.

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