Saturday, January 20, 2007


Say Goodbye to the Premiership Trophy, Chelsea!

I'm really glad that it wasn't only me who smelled blood before this match. The Liverpool players knew it as well, and played as if they sensed Chelsea's vulnerability. With both of their first-choice central defenders unfit, midfield ballwinner suspended, and turmoil at the club surrounding an apparent row between gaffer Jose Mourinho and the Chelsea board, the time was ripe for Rafa Benitez's troops to record their first-ever league points against the West London outfit. In a game where both sides felt the pressure to win, I admit to fearing that the game would end in a draw as neither side would want to lose. Luckily, Liverpool scored the all-important first goal inside the first four minutes of the game and placed doubts in the back of Chelsea minds. With Jermaine Pennant's screamer to follow fifteen minutes later, the task seemed almost impossible for Chelsea. In the end, 2-0 was the scoreline - the game was subdued but satisfying, and shift the media's inquiries for the upcoming week from Anfield to Stamford Bridge.
Man-of-the-match: Jamie Carragher. Dirk Kuyt is a close second, but Carragher was outstanding in defense as he shackled Didier Drogba. Drogba, with his flailing limbs and superb strength, was always going to be a handful, but Carragher answered every question asked of him by Drogba.

Player Ratings:


Pepe Reina - 6 - not much to do really
Steve Finnan - 6 - looked shaky at times, including almost giving away a penalty to Wright-Phillips and nearly giving the ball away to Kalou in the penalty area
Jamie Carragher - 9 - long ball created first goal, masterful display neutralizing Didier Drogba
Daniel Agger - 7 - another pleasing display in a line of consistent performances
John Arne Riise - 8 - looked a man on a mission to score
Jermaine Pennant - 8 - one of his better displays in a Liverpool shirt, fine volley
Steven Gerrard - 8 - another steady performance in the middle pulling the strings, made a few nice runs
Xabi Alonso - 7 -solid outing
Fabio Aurelio - 6 - starting to find his feet in the Premiership
Peter Crouch - 7 - gave Chelsea headaches with his ability to win long balls
Dirk Kuyt - 9 - brilliant, all-action display and a crucial goal
Mark Gonzalez - 6 - cameo appearance
Craig Bellamy - 6 - see Mark Gonzalez


Petr Cech - 6 - predictably rusty after long lay-off
Geremi - 5 - below-par
Paulo Ferreira - 5 - you could tell central defense was not his natural position
Michael Essien - 6 - some decent defensive work, but struggled with Liverpool's frontmen
Ashley Cole - 5 - should've closed down Pennant before his goal
John Obi Mikel - 5 - anonymous display in midfield
Michael Ballack - 4 - aside from some petulance, failed to shine
Frank Lampard - 6 - tried to make things happen
Solomon Kalou - 5 - looked raw
Didier Drogba - 6 - dangerous but well-marked
Arjen Robben - 4 - off-early due to injury, didn't do much
Shaun Wright-Phillips - 7 - only player with initiative and urgency to create
Andriy Shevchenko - 5 - anonymous 17-minute appearance

(photo taken from the Fox Sports World website)

Sunday, January 14, 2007


We're Well Placed for a Monumental Weekend!

One week until the top 4 are pitted into 2 head-to-head clashes. Mouthwatering stuff no doubt. It's been a while since I last blogged (new job's been busy), but I cannot get over the pain of losing to Arsenal twice, at home, in such emphatic defeats. I will not comment on the games, but I will mention one thing that is worrisome: against the other big sides in England, we've yet to claim a point. I'm hoping and praying this changes come Saturday - I'd love to accelerate Mourinho's departure from Chelsea!
I did manage to watch 4 games this weekend - Liverpool v. Watford, Chelsea v. Wigan, Blackburn v. Arsenal, and Tottenham v. Newcastle. Solid action all around, and here are some of my thoughts.

Watford v. Liverpool - a solid three points for the Merseyside outfit, and a generally pleasing performance. Rafa's formation was a bit bizarre - 3 centerbacks, 2 wingbacks, 2 central midfielders, and 3 strikers - I suppose a bit of a 3-2-2-3? It worked against Watford though, and I have no complaints - the goals were well taken, and it was pleasing to see the Reds bounce back from the 2 Arsenal defeats with a satisfying victory.
Who caught my eye? I thought Steve Finnan was outstanding in the wingback role on the right. I've consistently maintained that Finnan seems to thrive in that role, and his ability to bomb forward and support the attack was outstanding yesterday. I also thought Fabio Aurelio put in his first exceptional performance in a Liverpool shirt. In particular, I was quite pleased with some of his defensive work as he was able to dispossess Watford attackers on a few occasions, and his ability to link up with the attack was quite adequate as well. Up front, I was really pleased with Rafa's three-pronged strike force - Peter Crouch's finishes were excellent, but I thought that Bellamy and Kuyt were the gems of the XI. When Liverpool play away from Anfield, Bellamy seems to find the net and give the home defense a slew of problems with his pace and guile. Kuyt always puts in a solid performance with tremendous workrate, and I thought his ability to support the attack (he was involved in the build-up for 2 of the 3 goals) was first class.
In summation, a pleasing victory that should leave us feeling good ahead of the big game against Chelsea at Anfield.

Chelsea v. Wigan - one way traffic throughout. Lampard's goal was really quite poor from the Wigan perspective, and the defense and goalkeeper should've done better. I felt Arjen Robben was by far the brightest player in attack for Chelsea as he seemed to take the initiative of trying to enliven an otherwise dull affair. In defense, makeshift centerback Michael Essien put in a superb performance repelling everything Wigan threw forward and neutralized Emile Heskey.
Too many mistakes by Wigan, and if they keep playing like this, they could very well be facing a return to the Championship.

Blackburn v. Arsenal - Simply put, Blackburn did not get stuck in, did not play at a high-enough tempo, and were not creative enough in trying to breakdown 10-man Arsenal. Credit must be given to Arsenal, however...they were quite resolute, and at times played better than Blackburn despite having Gilberto Silva sent off early in the match. Gilberto Silva's sending off was a bit unlucky from his perspective as he was the victim of a Robbie Savage wind-up. It's astonishing how Savage has only been sent off once in his EPL career. For me, Robbie Savage epitomizes why Blackburn are an unlikeable side with unlikeable players and a tough-to-like coach. I thought Kolo Toure was outstanding as the rock in the Arsenal 4, putting in a steady performance and grabbing the opening goal. Cesc Fabregas was also fantastic in the midfield, tracking back to mark runners and playing dangerous passes in the attacking third. And of course, it only takes one instance for a player like Thierry Henry to show his class - his goal was unstoppable, a moment of pure class.

Tottenham v. Newcastle - The game of the weekend in my opinion. Quality football throughout. Tottenham dominated, but Newcastle were rewarded on their infrequent forays forward. The opening exchanges saw Tottenham pepper the Newcastle goal, and it took three solid Shay Given saves to keep the scores level. After Tottenham got a deserved opener from an offside position, Newcastle responded within two minutes from their first chance on goal. Off a free kick floated behind the far post, young fullback Paul Huntington - preferred to fellow youngster and matchwinner v. Manchester United David Edgar - struck a ball from near the byline off Paul Robinson and into the net. Something about Newcastle United leftbacks...
Jermain Defoe hit the post from near the edge of the 18 yard box, and Steed Malbranque was creating havoc in Newcastle's defense before Tottenham got a deserved second goal via Dimitar Berbatov. Berbatov and Defoe looked dangerous throughout, created tons of chances, and it'll be interesting to see how much longer Robbie Keane accepts a substitute's role in light of Berbatov and Defoe's form.
Within 90 seconds of madness with 20 minutes to go, Newcastle snatched an outstanding equalizer and an improbable winner. Punishing Tottenham for profligacy in from of goal, Obafemi Martins hit a wonder goal across his body from 20 yards out, leaving Andy Gray and Martin Tyler purring in the announcer's box. Shortly thereafter, Obafemi Martins threaded a perfectly weighted ball into the path of Nicky Butt's intelligent run, and Butt lashed in the winner. Tottenham dominated for large swathes of the game, and were unrelenting in their pressure for the last fifteen minutes of the game. With some solid defending and outstanding individual performances, Newcastle rode the storm, claimed three valuable points at a normally impregnable White Hart Lane, and completed the double over Tottenham this year.
Full marks to Nolberto Solano in the rightback role. Simply outstanding. He did a solid job neutralizing Tottenham forays on his side of the defense, and produced two outstanding blocks on goal-bound efforts. Shay Given, as always, was the man who kept Newcastle's defense from being embarassed. A worldclass goalkeeper in my opinion, he needs to move to a CL contender (ahem, Liverpool?). Obafemi Martins was inspired up front, and his wonder goal must be among the contenders for goal of the season so far. In the midfield, Nicky Butt put in one of his best performances since moving from Old Trafford despite an illness, and his goal could not be more vital to his side - the three points as a result of his winner have surely lifted the spirits of Glenn Roeder's injury-hexed troops.

Monday, January 01, 2007


Finally...a Convincing Performance!

Let me start off by noting that although I am a Liverpool fan, I can't say I completely agree with Rafa Benitez's pre-game comments about Bolton. I think I'm in the minority, but I am firmly believe that there's nothing wrong with Bolton's physical and direct approach. Football, especially in England, is meant to be played as a contact sport. As a result, it's meant to be physical. There is no set rule on how the game has to be played...and if a team wants to approach the game by pushing the limits of the game's rules, so be it. It works for Bolton, and full credit to them - their style routinely make life difficult for Premiership sides of all abilities. They're getting good results and are playing some very effective football. Nothing wrong with that in my opinion. That said, a good friend of mine pointed this out: teams only have trouble with Bolton (for instance Arsenal) if they don't have a centerback who is dominant in the air and can win the majority of headers. I completely concur - it seems the best way to neutralize Bolton.
Today's performance could go some way to supporting that thesis as I felt Sami Hyypia was dominant in the air, winning almost every header thrown at the defense. An inspired tactical move...along with the introduction of Peter Crouch up front. There were a number of good performances throughout the pitch, and I was generally pleased especially since we had played merely 2 days ago (but then again, so did Bolton). Maybe Bolton was seeking to merely try to neutralize us in midfield and soak up the pressure...but they lacked initiative going forward, and I don't think they forced a save out of Pepe Reina. In particular, El Hadji Diouf was silenced on his return to Anfield...and Nicolas Anelka was consistently starved of service. Must have been frustrating to be a Bolton man today...although Jussi Jääskeläinen made some top class saves to prevent the scoreline from flattering Liverpool more. At the moment, he has to be in the running for top goalkeeper of the season in England.
The first 2 goals today were simply class, and I felt Kuyt's goal was just reward for his all-action display and consistent workrate. Here are my player ratings:

Pepe Reina - 6.5 - not much to do really, a spectator for most of the game
Steve Finnan - 7.5 - another solid display, especially since he had a hand in the first 2 goals...and almost scored one in the 1st half
Jamie Carragher - 7 - another commendable and solid display at the back
Sami Hyypia - 8 - like a rock in the middle of the defense. Great performance, especially winning headers.
John Arne Riise - 6.5 - solid game, but when are we going to see a shot on target, let alone a goal?
Jermaine Pennant - 7 - for once, I have very little to complain about. Involved in the 2 opening goals. That said, I would still like to see Pennant exhibit better decision-making skills...and maintain his concentration throughout the game. I remember one instance after a corner kick...Pepe Reina had just caught the ball and wanted to throw the ball quickly to Pennant to initiate a counterattack. Reina was furious, however, because Pennant had turned into a spectator instead of running for the Bolton half and creating an outlet for a counterattack.
Steven Gerrard - 8 - great display in midfield, volleyed goal was class
Xabi Alonso - 7 - another good performance, especially in terms of intercepting balls in midfield
Mark Gonzalez - 5 - provided some width early, but faded - disappointing?
Peter Crouch - 7.5 - a menace, could've had a brace...his bicycle kick was class
Dirk Kuyt - 8 - great workrate, great finish
Luis Garcia - 7 - slotted in well and provided a nice pass for Kuyt's goal
Fabio Aurelio - 6 - little time to do much
Robbie Fowler - 6 - got a few touches in his limited time, but didn't really lead to much

Final verdict: the 2nd half was arguably Liverpool's best 45 minutes of the season. Defense was leakproof, and the attack looked menacing.

On the fantasy Premiership front, I'm locked in a tight fantasy cup matchup...right now, I'm down to my opponent by 11 points. My opponent has Arsenal's Gilberto and Van Persie left to go, while I still have Van Persie, Fabregas, and Lampard to go, especially with Lampard as my captain. What am I hoping for? Obviously, no ground to lose or gain with Van Persie. Hopefully, Gilberto won't score tomorrow, Fabregas will get an assist or 2, and Lampard will get me some points (but not too many, I'd love to see Chelsea lose!). It's going to be a close finish in this cup tie, keep your fingers crossed for me...

Sunday, December 31, 2006


Crazy Season is Upon Us

In only a matter of hours, the transfer window's doors will be thrown wide upon, and it seems that a number of Premiership clubs will have both 1) money to spend, and 2) immediate needs to fill over the next month. This should make for an interesting month. To be fair, however, I would say that the majority of transfer rumors are unrealistic, and there's bound to be a shock transfer or 2 that no-one can predict at this moment. Hear are some of the more bizarre (and unrealistic) links being proferred at the moment, have a look (and a good laugh):

Vincenzo Montella (AS Roma) - loan to Blackburn Rovers
Steve Finnan (Liverpool) - to Charlton Athletic
Kevin Nolan (Bolton) - to Everton
Ivan Klasnic (Werder Bremen) - to Manchester City
David Bellion (unknown) - to Reading

Other news I can't resist commenting on:
- Is it only me, or does there seem to be a magic potion at Stamford Bridge that has incredible healing powers? I'm reading rumors that John Terry will be fit in time for Chelsea's Carling Cup semi-final against Wycombe Wanderers on January 10?! Incredible...I'm stunned that John Terry will be playing, never mind training, two weeks after having surgery. And ever wonder why Frank Lampard is never injured and never misses a game? There has to be a magic potion stored somewhere in the confines of Stamford Bridge...
...and it seems that Chelsea must have left some of their potent potion in the Old Trafford dressing room. After initial reports that Michael Carrick would be out for a month, he played yesterday for United against Reading.

- It's also quite satisfying to see Mourinho rip his team the way he has over the last 24 hours. Sadly, I think most teams would suffer from internal dissent and rifts in the squad from the sort of criticism Mourinho has leveled. However, as we saw in their games at Wigan and Everton, Chelsea have incredible character. Mourinho is no dummy either - rather, he's quite clever, has a sharp and unrestrained tongue (I suspect that he often makes his outlandish comments in an effort to deflect criticism, attention and pressure away from this own squad) and knows the right buttons to push. What does this mean? Expect Chelsea to get back to their dominating ways, unfortunately - looks like they might take their recent frustrations out on Martin O'Neill's side by thrashing them at Villa Park.

-Nicolas Anelka has a knack for scoring against former employers this season. Tomorrow, he will come up against another former employer, Liverpool, in the early game on New Year's Day. I wonder what the bookies' odds are on Anelka snapping Liverpool's run of home clean sheets and snatching a goal at Anfield...

Saturday, December 30, 2006


EPL Gameweek 21, December 30, 2006: Results and Thoughts

When was the last time Arsenal and Chelsea dropped points on the same weekend, aside from playing each other? Don't know? ME NEITHER! And Manchester United in 1st place heading into the New Year? Away victories for Liverpool and Manchester City? A bizarre matchday to say the least...

Charlton Athletic 2, Aston Villa 1 - I woke up early to watch this match and was left underwhelmed by a number of performances on the pitch. Although it seemed as if they would hang on for another hard-fought point away from Villa Park, Aston Villa were punished for profligate finishing. Moments before Bryan Hughes lashed in the winner in stoppage time, Gabriel Agbonlahor spurned a good, but not easy, chance to steal all three points for 10-man Aston Villa. Immediately afterwards, play shifted into the Aston Villa third. Hermann Hreidarsson rose high at the far post from a cross, headed the ball down into the path of Bryan Hughes, and Hughes capped off a strong substitute performance by giving Charlton all three points. The turning point of the game: undoubtedly Gareth Barry's sending off. He can have no complaints as he had no choice. Standout performances: for Charlton, Darren Bent had another strong game leading the attack. He seems to have risen to the responsibility of captaining this relegation-threatened side and leading their charge out of the drop zone. Matthew Holland also played well disrupting Aston Villa's midfield buildups. Amdy Faye who? Darren Ambrose also looked dangerous at times, including hitting a shot in the first half that forced Aston Villa goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly to tip onto his own post.

Although I didn't see the game, it's become quite obvious to me that Chelsea are not a Championship-winning calibre side without John Terry in their defense. Another 2 goals shipped in a 2-2 draw with Fulham. When was the last time Chelsea failed to pick up maximum points in back-to-back home games? It's now 8 goals conceded in 4 Premiership matches for the champions - 2 goals in each of the last four games to Everton, Wigan, Reading and Fulham. Imagine if Chelsea had to endure this lean spell against sides like Manchester United, Liverpool, and Arsenal...

I also watched a gritty and industrious Sheffield United shock Arsenal 1-0 at Bramall Lane. Full credit to Neil Warnock's side - I thought they fully deserved 3 points for their efforts. It seems that Sheffield United and Bolton Wanderers have found the formula for beating Arsenal: disrupt their passing moves by closing down their passers quickly, play physically and outmuscle them, and play direct football. It worked a gem today. Julio Baptista looked off color, especially after he missed a golden opportunity to score early on. I think it's safe to say that he's definitely one import who hasn't fully adjusted to the English game. Tomas Rosicky was in and out of the game, but for the most part, his passing was subpar. The Arsenal backline looked rattled at times, though Philippe Senderos was generally solid for a change. Full credit to Sheffield United though - players like Morgan, Montgomery, and Davis were immense in defense today for The Blades. And full marks to Jagielka for a calm and composed half hour in goal - though in fairness, Arsenal hardly tested him...why that was, I don't know - that could very well be the reason why Arsenal left Bramall Lane emptyhanded.


We All Dream of a Team of Carraghers!

What a performance by Jamie Carragher! Indeed, #23 is in a great vein of form at the moment. Carragher put in a titanic performance at the back to ensure that Liverpool escaped White Hart Lane with all three points and a clean sheet. Most followers of the Premiership are aware of Carragher's incredible determination and effort, and he duly displayed those qualities at the back for Liverpool today. Tottenham put Liverpool under increasing pressure during the course of the final half hour, often committing 7 or 8 players into the attack towards the end. At White Hart Lane, most Premiership sides would have cracked under the pressure caused by Defoe's runs and Berbatov's impactful presence. Today, Jamie Carragher threw himself at every dangerous ball into the Liverpool penalty area and ensured that Liverpool fans would not be disappointed with the outcome. Sure, there were nervy moments - Finnan heading against his own post, Hossam Ghaly missing an empty net off a parry by Pepe Reina - but it seems that these are the kind of breaks that team's get when they are finding form.

Player Ratings v. Tottenham:
Pepe Reina - 6.5 - didn't have much to do, but did cause a gasp or 2 when the ball sailed through his hands as he tried to claim a corner
Steve Finnan - 7 - steady contribution, although his one mistake was almost costly
Jamie Carragher - 9 - man of the match. Immense at the back, a number of important blocks.
Daniel Agger - 7 - solid performance, though he has Riise to thank for saving him after Berbatov skinned him and whipped a dangerous ball into the six-yard box. Riise, covering behind Agger, did well to turn the ball out for a corner.
John Arne Riise - 6.5 - I still maintain that Riise performs better in a back 5, but his performance today was satisfactory.
Luis Garcia - 7 - scored the winner, sporadically looked dangerous in attack
Steven Gerrard - 7 - important assist on Luis Garcia's goal, a much better performance than at Blackburn
Xabi Alonso - 7.5 - a number of nice interceptions to break up Tottenham attacks
Fabio Aurelio - 6 - seems to take too long on the ball, doesn't seem completely adjusted to the English pace
Craig Bellamy - 7.5 - until hamstring worry, was creating problems for the Tottenham backline
Dirk Kuyt - 7 - linked well with Bellamy at times, consistent workrate as usual
Jermaine Pennant - 6 - slotted in, but nothing outstanding
Peter Crouch - 6 - solid 27 minutes on the pitch
Mark Gonzalez - 6 - not much time to make an impact

Overall verdict: Good to see Liverpool rebound from the performance at Blackburn with an away win at a normally difficult ground. Few clear cut chances, but finishing proved to be the difference. A number of good performances and one outstanding performance from Jamie Carragher moves us up into the Champions League places ahead of Monday's clash with Bolton Wanderers at Anfield.

Friday, December 29, 2006


EPL Fantasy Tips and Predictions - Gameweek 21

The 3rd of 4 games in the Festive period is upon us, and with it comes the debut of my fantasy tips. I'm a regular participant in's official Fantasy game (it's free!), and I've gotten some decent scores of late... so here goes my attempt to offer tips:

Charlton Athletic v. Aston Villa - I think we'll see a scoring draw of 1-1 or 2-2. With Chris Sutton sidelined, I think Martin O'Neill will start Milan Baros, Juan Pablo Angel, and the ever-present Gabriel Agbonlahor in attack. If cost is a factor, go with Agbonlahor - he seems to be a catalyst for a lot of Aston Villa's more successful attacking moves.

Blackburn Rovers v. Middlesbrough - a battle of 2 inconsistent sides...will the Blackburn side that's taken 4 of 6 from Liverpool show up? Which Middlesbrough side will show up - the side that's taken points off Arsenal, Chelsea, and Liverpool...or the side that looked bereft of ideas at Sheffield United and Watford? I'm tipping a win for Blackburn at home - Benni McCarthy should be a good fantasy pick this week, as I also feel selecting a Blackburn defender could be a wise gamble.

Bolton Wanderers v. Portsmouth - Portsmouth are decimated by injuries up front, and I don't think their defenders will continue their impressive scoring feat against Bolton. Bolton seem to be finding form - in particular, Nicolas Anelka has been finding the net of late. I'm going to tip Kevin Nolan to get points - though he has only 1 goal this season (scored at Portsmouth in a 1-0 victory), I think he will add to his meager tally against Portsmouth. Looks like a Bolton win.

Chelsea v. Fulham - Fulham are ravaged by the injury bug, and despite Chelsea's own injuries problem, I don't think Chelsea will drop points against Fulham. Chelsea have an impressive record at home in London derbies, and Frank Lampard has 6 goals in 6 games against their West London neighbors. Chelsea to win with Lampard racking up at least 5 fantasy points.

Everton v. Newcastle - this one's got draw written all over it. Newcastle has fought through a lengthy injury list to climb away from the relegation scrap, and I think they will put on a brave display at Goodison Park. In my opinion, Everton desperately need Tim Cahill to return soon - they are different, and more potent, attacking proposition with Cahill in the lineup. I think Mikel Arteta will be influential in this game - if Everton are to score, the attacking move will probably involve him.

Manchester United v. Reading - I was impressed by Reading's spirited display against Chelsea, but I think going to Old Trafford is completely different proposition. I think this one is always going to be 3 points to the Premiership leaders - too much quality on the pitch. It's obvious who everyone should look to for fantasy points - Cristiano Ronaldo. Maybe an early candidate for FIFA Player of the Year for 2007?

Tottenham Hotspur v. Liverpool - sorry fellow Reds fans, I just can't see us taking 3 points from White Hart Lane. I think this one will end as a draw. I hope Rafa reverts back to using Bellamy-Kuyt in attack for this game - if so, I'm tipping Craig Bellamy to get fantasy points. Tough game to predict fantasy points though, so stay away from this game if possible.

Watford v. Wigan - injuries have taken their toll on both sides, and I think this game is an early relegation 6-pointer. In particular, I think Watford need all three points from this game - otherwise, they could end up being cast further adrift of safety. I'd like to tip Watford to win, but I just can't see where they will get more than 1 goal from. Looks like a 1-1 draw. If Watford are to have success, it will be via Ashley Young and his ability to pop up on either wing and create trouble.

West Ham v. Manchester City - looks like another ugly relegation 6-pointer bereft of quality. West Ham are without captain Nigel Reo-Coker, while Man City are missing energetic midfielder Joey Barton. I think West Ham will win in a scrappy one because of both the new manager effect and Man City's inability to score goals away from Eastlands. I think you'd be safe picking a West Ham defender for this game, and if you're looking for a gamble, try Yossi Benayoun.

Sheffield United v. Arsenal - massive injury woes for both Sheffield United and Arsenal. I think The Blades' physical approach will give Arsenal a bit of trouble, but I think the Gunners will weather the storm and leave with all 3 points. A potential carbon-copy of the game at Watford on Boxing Day? I think so. I think Fabregas will have an influential game for an Arsenal side struggling with injury, and Kolo Toure will need to be a rock at the back for Arsenal. A 2-1 or 3-2 victory for Arsenal.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


2 Straight Unconvincing Games (Home to Watford and Away to Blackburn)

Another frustrating away performance. Why is it that we seem to struggle for fluidity and luck against the so-called 'more physical' sides of the Premiership? Today, against Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park, I could not help but feel that the game was reminiscent to previous away defeats at Stamford Bridge and The Reebok: we were not outplayed, created more opportunities, but still found a way to lose.
Prior to today, Saturday's 2-0 home win against a plucky Watford side seemed a hard-fought win. Watford were very physical and direct, and with a bit of improved finishing, could've nicked a goal or 2 at Anfield. However, finishing seems to be what separates teams, especially at the bottom of the table: Watford's pluckiness and committed displays seem to be headed for naught as they lack the cutting edge in the final 1/3 of the pitch. Watching the game, I felt anxious with the one-goal lead that Liverpool maintained for most of the 2nd half. It seemed that we were 1 unlucky moment away from Watford snatching a shock equalizer. Luckily, Xabi Alonso hit the imminent and important 2nd goal to seal the game, a goal Liverpool had been desperately searching for. A good win, but Watford made us work for it.
Before I reflect on what went wrong in the performance v. Blackburn, I was able to pick out a few positives that I hope Rafa and the coaching staff can build on. As Rafa switched to deploying three center-backs at the back today, I felt that each of them acquitted themselves well. This was especially true of Jamie Carragher. Although he's a defender, I'm willing to argue that the local lad has found himself a rich vein of form and has consistently put in some commendable displays at the back over the last three or four Premiership games.
Ever since Rafa began using three center-backs, I've noted that the fullbacks seem to thrive in a wing-back position, and I think this is especially true of Steve Finnan. Against Blackburn today, Finnan got forward really well and whipped in a few delightful crosses. Too bad none of them were converted for goals.
On his return to his former club, I thought Craig Bellamy's efforts showed his determination and desire to hit one past his former employers. He created havoc for the Blackburn rearguard, and had a couple of decent chances to score. He also used his pace and workrate to good effect, showing that he has truly refound form after the completion of his trial in Cardiff.
Now for the bad. Our fluidity and finishing were not there today. While I thought Blackburn's midfield was combative and pesky, I thought that Liverpool could've played less direct and tried to impose their will on the game. It was never going to be easy as I've no doubts that Mark Hughes gave his players a lashing after the 6-2 drubbing at Arsenal 3 days ago. With our quality on the pitch, however, I thought Liverpool could've done better, especially in terms of getting a foothold on the midfield.
Peter Crouch's finishing was sub-par today, but I think he just needs a bit of luck, a consistent run in the side, and another opportunity. Ordinarily, I think the chances that were presented to Crouchie today would've been converted into goals. With an inspired Brad Friedel in goal and some sub-par finishing, it wasn't to be. Still, I expect Crouchie to be back among the goals next time around.
Mark Gonzalez, along with Jermaine Pennant, have still yet to convince me that they were worth their transfer fees. I'm still willing to hold out on judging them as I truly believe that players need almost a year to fully adjust to the pace of the Premiership and/or the rigors of playing for an elite club; still, I cannot recall a performance from either winger that has made me sit up and take notice. I'd like to see both players get back to basics: good first touches, beating defenders with their pace, and whipping in crosses that the forwards can pounce on. I'd also like to see Pennant assert himself more and imitate the workrate of Kuyt and Bellamy.
Here are my ratings for today's game:
Pepe Reina - 6.5 - not at fault for today's goal
Steve Finnan - 7 - seems to do his best work in a wing-back role
Jamie Carragher - 7.5 - another strong showing by #23
Sami Hyypia - 6 - consistent and one crucial challenge late on
Daniel Agger - 6 - consistent as well, though some of his passes were wayward
John Arne Riise - 6 - where are his shooting boots?
Steven Gerrard - 6 - a subpar day, especially by his standards
Xabi Alonso - 6.5 - a couple of rasping drives, unlucky not to score with either
Mark Gonzalez - 5 - aside from backtracking and making a nice tackle on Brett Emerton, didn't show much
Craig Bellamy - 7 - pace and workrate were pleasing to see, unlucky not to score
Peter Crouch - 6 - decent hold-up play, sub-par finishing
Dirk Kuyt - 6 - combative display and persistent workrate
Fabio Aurelio - 5 - didn't show much
Luis Garcia - 5 - didn't really show much in his 13 minutes

Monday, December 18, 2006


Thoughts on the Rest of the Weekend's Action

Everton - Chelsea
As much as I dislike Chelsea and everything they stand for, I will be the first to recognize that yesterday's win over Everton was a compelling case for why they will romp to a 3rd consecutive league title. Just when things seemed lost, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba pulled 2 sublime goals from out of nowhere and salvaged all 3 points for Chelsea. No doubt Everton will feel hard done by the scoreline, but Chelsea showed that they have quality in their ranks.
It's a shame that Khalid Bouhlarouz can't start more often for Chelsea. He had a torrid game against Everton, and it seemed a mirror image of his game against our Merseyside warriors earlier in the season at Stamford Bridge.

Manchester City - Tottenham Hotspur

Tom Huddlestone put in another eye-opening performance and has no doubt made a serious claim to a starting midfield spot in Martin Jol's starting XI. He had a hand in both of Tottenham's first half goals, especially the 2nd, which he scored with a vicious volley from 20 yards out after a neat square pass from Egyptian international Hossam Ghaly.
It seems to me that Berbatov - Defoe have really secured their claims to be Martin Jol's first choice strike pairing. In the absence of Robbie Keane, Jermain Defoe has really shown that he is one of England's top strikers, and that Martin Jol omits him from Tottenham's starting XI at his own peril.
Manchester City looked lifeless during the first 45 minutes, arguably the worst performance I've seen from a Premiership side in a long time. Whatever was said in the dressing room at halftime seemed to fire up the troops, but it was a case of too little, too late. Joey Barton ran the midfield show in the 2nd half, and on that sort of form, I think he could be worthy of an England call-up. My concern for him is the consistency of his passing distribution and, on occasions, his ability to 'shut off' at certain points in the game. In my opinion, he needs to keep his concentration for the full 90 minutes. It also seems quite glaring to me that Manchester City are lacking quality up front and on the wings, especially down the left-hand side.

West Ham - Manchester United

Call it 'the new manager effect.' A somewhat unsurprising result. Still, West Ham seemed motivated and fired up to impress their new boss. In particular, James Collins' display in central defense and Lee Bowyer's tireless work in midfield caught my eye as the key performances that kept Manchester United at bay. Could the tide be turning against Sir Alex and his boys?

Arsenal - Portsmouth

Emmanuel Adebayor has truly put in some eye-catching performances of late. He turned the game on its head upon his introduction against Portsmouth, and played a key role in overturning Arsenal's 2 goal deficit to Harry Redknapp's battlers. Even though they played with only 1 fit striker, Portsmouth found 2 goals thanks to Noe Pamarot and Matthew Taylor.
I was only impressed by Theo Walcott's work on the right for Arsenal after the permanently injured Freddie Ljungberg hobbled off after 6 minutes. Walcott, like Adebayor, had a role in both of Arsenal's goals, and made an impact down Arsenal's right-hand flank.

Aston Villa - Bolton

Seemed awfully reminiscent of Bolton's away game earlier in the season against Portsmouth. In that game, they had 1 chance and converted it for the game's only goal. They were also dominated in that game at Fratton Park, but thanks to the performance of Jussi Jääskeläinen in goal, took all 3 points in that match at Fratton Park. The script was essentially the same at Villa Park this weekend, and I must tip my hat to Bolton's resilience. If they can continue to demonstrate such resiliency on a more consistent basis, they will truly be a legitimate UEFA Cup contender.


Liverpool 3, Charlton Athletic 0: Another Comprehensive Win for Rafa's Troops

The weekend trip to The Valley yielded a fully deserved 3-0 victory over relegation battlers Charlton Athletic. Goals came via penalty from Xabi Alonso in the 3rd minute, a rasping shot from Craig Bellamy in the 82nd, and a cool chipshot from skipper Steven Gerrard in the 88th minute. Liverpool dominated for large swathes of the game, and Charlton's unability to piece together flowing passing movements underlined why they are favorites for the drop if things stay as they are.
The first Liverpool goal came via a dangerous challenge from ex-Liverpool man Djimi Traore on Jermaine Pennant in the box. In addition to going into the referee's book, Traore conceded a penalty, which he could have no complaints about. Xabi Alonso duly converted the penalty, and the Reds didn't look back. True, there were some threatening moments, especially Andy Reid's shot late in the 1st half that Pepe Reina could only parry as far as the unmarked Hermann Hreidarsson. The Icelandic international proved why he is deployed at the back as his finishing from an unmarked position 6 yards from goal was pitiful. Hreidarsson's blasted effort proved to be Charlton's best opportunity to find a goal, and one of 2 or 3 rare challenges to Pepe Reina's goal.
Although Liverpool dominated throughout, with Dirk Kuyt going close twice and hitting the post once, the game was never comfortably secured until the 82nd minute. From a throw-in, Craig Bellamy beat his marker to the ball on the right side of the 18-yard box, turned, and volleyed inside the far post for his 3rd goal in 2 away matches. To put the exclamation mark on the day's work, Steven Gerrard fired a neat chipshot into the far corner of the net with 2 minutes left. The goal came after some neat build-up work, and left Charlton goalkeeper Thomas Myhre frozen in his tracks.

Man-of-the-match: Xabi Alonso - Alonso ran the show from midfield, working with Gerrard to disrupt Charlton Athletic attacks and providing a series of neat passes.

Player ratings:

Liverpool (4-4-2)
Reina - 6 - largely untroubled, but solid when called upon
Finnan - 7 - supported the attack well down the right flank
Carragher - 7 - dealt with the few forays that came his way
Hyypia - 7 - same as Carragher, not much to do
Riise - 6- a rather uneventful day for Riise
Pennant - 6- won the first penalty, saw a lot of the ball, but did not produce any moments of quality truly worth remembering
Gerrard - 7 - a more subdued day from the captain by his own standards, although his all-action displayed undoubtedly unsettled Charlton's midfield
Xabi Alonso - 8 - great work alongside Gerrard in the midfield
Gonzalez - 6 - whipped in a few dangerous crosses
Bellamy - 8 - a menace to the Charlton defense throughout the match, his goal was a worthy reward for his efforts
Kuyt - 6 - worked hard as always, although his passing and shooting was waywards

Luis Garcia - 6 - hit a wicked volley on goal late in the game, otherwise, nothing really of note
Crouch - 6 - game on late, but provided the headed assist for Gerrard's goal
Fabio Aurelio - 6 - had little time to truly impact the game, but good to see him back

* Photo is taken from Liverpool FC's official website.

Friday, December 15, 2006


Liverpool v. Barcelona: Can we Do it?

Because of my love for Liverpool FC and my illness (the weather has been whacky in New York recently), I was up around 6am this morning to follow the draw for the Champions League Round of 16. I couldn't help but feel that the draw has been unlucky to us. While we landed a glamour tie worthy of being the center of attention for this upcoming round (sorry, I don't think Bayern Munich v. Real Madrid is as appealing), I couldn't help but feel that the other English sides got away with easy draws. They drew Lille, PSV, and Porto, arguably 3 of the 4 easiest opponents from the 2nd pot (along with Celtic). As a result, I think Manchester United are as good as through, Chelsea are as good as through, and Arsenal have a 75% chance of progressing.
Rather than bemoaning the draw like some managers do (i.e. Arsene Wenger), I think Liverpool fans should embrace this tie. It's a great chance to show the rest of the footballing world that, despite falling to Benfica last year at the same stage, that we are still a force to be reckoned with on the European stage. Both teams, I feel, will be cautious towards their opponents but will also relish the tie. It's a 50-50 chance that we'll progress, and a 50-50 chance that Barcelona will prevail. Barcelona have quality all over the pitch, but so do we. In my opinion, Barcelona have some areas that we can exploit. Here are my thoughts:
1) When the attacking front 3 are fit, I feel Ronaldinho-Eto'o-Messi are the best at what they do. It's obviously one of Barcelona's many strengths, and I think Rafa will have to neutralize their threat. Maybe play his 3 centerbacks and 2 wingbacks formation at the Nou Camp? If not, maybe Rafa could consider investing in another defensively sound fullback. As it stands, I think Ronaldinho and Messi have an advantage over Riise and Finnan on the flanks.
2) From watching Barcelona periodically, it seems to me that they have weaknesses that can be exploited down the flanks and in the middle of the park. In particular, I think their midfield is a bit lightweight, especially when it's comprised of Xavi, Deco, and Iniesta. Down the flanks, Zambrotta has yet to hit top form for Barcelona, and I think Gio could be beaten. With a potential cash infusion, maybe it'll be worth it for Rafa to splash some money on getting some extra steel in the midfield? Maybe another Momo Sissoko-type midfield who can sit in the midfield, win balls, and allow Gerrard to go forward? Or maybe buying a winger who could exploit Barcelona's fullbacks? Pennant has yet to show me that he can do the job in a red shirt, and if the situation doesn't change, I think Rafa might be wise to snap up a winger who is effective in whipping in dangerous crosses and has good pace.
3) If the Dubai-based consortium goes ahead with a takeover of Liverpool, I think Rafa should consider using some of the cash towards buying Fernando Torres. Of course, there will be questions as to whether he can settle in England and as to whether he would justify his potential transfer fee. That said, with rumors that Crouchie could be off to Newcastle, I think Torres could be a great pickup. His track record against Barcelona is phenomenal - I believe over the last 2 or 3 La Liga seasons, his strike-to-games ratio is close to 1:1. In addition, prevailing over Barcelona will give the club some extra money and the chance to win more prize money further in the tournament.
I think this tie, though daunting, is definitely not impossible. It goes without saying that Rafa will have the lads well-prepared for this tie. It's still 2 months away, but I have faith that when the time comes, the lads will show the world that Liverpool are still one of Europe's premier outfits.

Monday, December 11, 2006


I've Decided to Write About Something I'm Very Passionate About: Anfield's Warriors

My moment of inspiration to blog about my favorite team, Liverpool, came after watching one of my favorite players score his first Premiership goal in 7 years. A certain local lad, Jamie Carragher, scored Liverpool's second goalagainst Fulham FC on December 9, 2006, with a well-executed goal at the far post following a flick-on header from Daniel Agger. Prior to opening his account for the century, #23 last scored in 1999. With Carragher's goal, I felt it was time for me to break new ground as well. Because of my love for the club, I want to share my thoughts and reach out to other Liverpool fans, as well as Premiership fans in general, and spark some lively commentary on the web. My ultimate hope is that my blog will attract Anfield supporters from all across the globe, and that my blog will become a medium for supporters to exchange ideas and views.
I hope you enjoy the posts on my blog. Every effort will be made to keep my posts lively, intelligent, and enjoyable. I intend to blog with every Premiership gameweek; if not, I will blog as often as possible. In addition to providing my own opinions, I will try to provide analysis, a game report, and player ratings from each game I watch.
Come on you Reds!

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