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...

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