Wednesday, January 31, 2007

West hammered

Put your hands up for Dirk Kuyt, he loves this city. Great goals last night and an important three points in our push for second. We played much better in the second half and Kuyt scored within 10 seconds of the kick off. 9 league goals now for Kuyt. Crouch scored on his birthday with a superb goal. The passing and movement for it were reminisent of Rafa's Valencia team. I like the looks of this 3-4-3 formation against the lower teams. This was practicaly the same team that played v Watford recently. Riise improved on his recent form in a slightly more forward position on the left of the midfield four. We're now only 2 points behind Chelsea with them playing tonight. I think that we've a good chance of catching them but I still can't see us catching Utd.

It's the visit of the bluenoses on Sat morning. Rumour is that Momo should be back for at least the bench and Bolo was an unused sub last night. Some talk that AJ might be on the bench for the toffees and if so I can see him coming on for a big finale if they're behind. He gave us lots of problems earlier in the season when we lost 3-0 at Woodison. I think that we'll have revenge on our minds and should be able to win this. After that we have the Toon away, Sheffield Utd at home and then Man Ure at home.

There has been a good bit of transfer activity recently with the window about to close. Alvaro Arbeloa has come in for around £2.6m from Deportivo. He's a Spanish right back and centre back who used to play for Real Madrid. Can't say that I know much about him but the deportivo fans are annoyed that he's leaving on the cheap as he's been very good for them this year. Francis Duran has joined on loan from Malaga. He's 18 and a cnetral midfielder. The long and drawn out Javier Mascherano laon deal looks like it will be completed at some stage today. FIFA have given us the all clear and West Ham don't want him. The involvement of MSI will make it less straightforward. At first I wasn't that pushed but I now think that he'll be used as an alternative to Xabi and will mean Bolo will leave which is a good thing. Here's a goal that he scored for River Plate and here he is playing a central role in one of the greatest goals ever.

Monday, January 22, 2007

A pennant for the spectacular

"Bye bye Mourinho" sang the kop on Sat. They mightn't have to wait too long to see their prediction come true. Saturdays 2-0 win was an extremely sweet way to celebrate Rafa's 100th game in charge. Add in Utd's defeat by Arsenal and it became a very satisfying weekend. We've been criticised, rightly so in my view, for having a fairly poor league record against the rest of the top four clubs. This was the first league win over the so called special one in the league under Rafa. But we now have the best home record and the best defence in the league. I think that this gives a strong platform to build upon in our upcoming games against Arsenal and Utd at Anfield. We lost away but if we can win our home league games against the other top clubs it'll be a good mark of progress for the season. This also put out cup exits into perspective. I expect those fools calling for Rafa's head will be quieter now.

In the first half we were fantastic. "We worked for each other as a team," said Kuyt. "That was the big difference between us and them." Dirk Kuyt and Peter "he is a nice boy" Crouch gave Chelsea's defence a torrid time. Dirk showed great touch and composure for his goal. He has a great touch most times and made the room for himself with his cushioned header. Pennant added the second with a superb strike. His first goal for the reds was worth waiting for. The team as a whole performed well but Carra, Finnan and Stevie deserve special mentions. Gerrard worked hard all over the pitch, supporting attacks and back helping the defence. So much for the theory that he can't play alongside Xabi in the centre.

I still think that Utd are going to win the title. Some more optimistic reds feel that we have a chance but I think that there is no cnace of them slipping up by 11 points. They have to come to Anfield, Stamford bridge, City and Goodison but they're playing too well to lose many of those. Their defeat by Arsenal makes it more interesting but only really delays the inevitable. What I do think is possible is that we might be able to pip Chelsea for second. They are playing poorly and really missing Terry as we saw on Sat. If he's out for much longer then they could continue to drop points. Hopefully we can continue as the form team in the league and overtake them.

It looks like the transfer of Neil to Wet Ham will go through today and Warnock will leave for Blackburn in a £1.5m deal. I like Warnock but I think that he'll only ever be a squad player with us. I am suprised at Neil but his wallet seems to be more important than his carear. Fair enough. Rumour in Holland is that we've agreed a deal to sign a young dutch striker from Ajax called Jordy Brouwer. He's 18 and will only cost us a few £k in in compo. Can't say that I've heard of him but could be another one of Rafa's investments for the future.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Watford wilt

What a great way to get back in form and silence the critics? It was the perfect game to follow our two cup defeats really. Rafa decided to play a 3-4-3 formation which had the "experts" scratching their heads and crying rotation and tinkering before kick off. He was rewarded by three goals from the three strikers and some great attacking play. It must be said that the opposition weren't up to much and posed little threat.

Chelsea next Sat will be an entirely different story. There is some talk that Cech will be back for this match, which would be a real boost for the under fire Jose. Terry should still be out though which is good news but don't rule out a miraculous recovery in time for Sat. They'll also be missing Joe Cole who's out for the season so he won't be able to get his usual deflected goal against us. I fear Drogba as he can give our defenders a hard time given the form he's in. I expect Sami to sit this one out as Drogba can take him apart.

The senior team could do worse than follow the lead of our underage team in the Youth cup who managed to beat Chelsea. It would be a great achievement if they managed to retain the cup after winning it last year. I have to admit that I don't know too much about any of the players but I know that a lot of them are highly thought of within the club.

The news of the takeover talks has come back into the limelight this past weekend due to an interview that Rick Parry gave on BBC fivelive's excellent Sportsweek programme. He said that he expects the DIC deal to go through shortly. I don't think that this means Rafa will be splashing the cash before the end of the transfer window but it bodes well for the future of the club. Hopefully work on the new stadium will begin shortly.

We've signed three youngsters this past week. Leto, a 20 year old winger, has come from Lanus in Argentina but won't join up until the summer. Astrit Ajdarevic, a 16 year old striker, has signed from Flakenburg in Sweeden. Finally Daniele Padelli has signed from Sampdoria. He's 21 and a talented 'keeper. Could be the end of Jerzy if we can find someone to pay his wages or part of them.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Deja vu

On the fan scale there are two extremes. At one end we have the knee jerkers. After a result like tonights in the Carling Cup, they call for Rafas head. There was one in the pub that I was watching the game in tonight. At the other end of the spectrum we have the superfans. They won't hear a bad word said against the manager, no matter what. I feel that I am somewhere in between. You won't hear me calling for Rafa's head but I do believe that he has made mistakes along the way. Being knocked out of the Carling cup isn't a disaster but the manner of the defeat at home was terrible.

The defence was as amatuer as a primary school team. Again we tried to play football, again we defended like children and again Arsenal picked us off with every attack. I have no problem with trying to play football but we have to be able to defend too. Paletta doesn't look anywhere near ready yet. Sami suffers when playing against pace. Aliadiere, a player I don't really rate, and Baptista, a player I rate very highly, tormented Sami. There is no point in playing him against teams like Arsenal. He is fine for matches like the Bolton one where the danger is primarily in the air. Peltier looked exposed as not yet ready for this level. Warnock was probably our best defender on the night but he still isn't of the required level for a premiership title. Dudek was poor again. Thanks for the memories Jerzey but it's time to go.

Arsenal's youngsters and reserves were much better than our youngsters and reserves which wasn't a major surprise. I think that this is something that Rafa is trying to change with his purchases. Wenger has a great eye for talent but he has had to pay a lot for his young stars. Our transfer policy seems to be changing from just local talent to include young prospects from abroad like Antwi, Astrit Ajdarevic, Insua and an Argentine winger called Leto who is currently being linked to us. If we can couple these young signings with local British and Irish talent like Jamie McCarthy, we should be able to build a strong team for the future. Rafa has said that he wanted to sign players like Walcott and Denilson but couldn't compete for price with Arsenal. Hopefully our investment will come off and we can sign the stars of the future too.

Both Garcia and Gonzalez came off injured. That leaves us a little short of left midfield options. It will probably be one of Riise/Warnock/Aurelio for now. The Lucas Neil transfer should go through in the next seven days according to the Lancashire Telegraph. I think that he'll be first choice left back for the moment if he does sign.

I think that it's time to refocus on the league. I hope that the team can forget about these last two results and concentrate on Watford away. This should be very winable. A good three points will get us back on track. A clean cheet would be a bonus after conceding nine in two games.

The Italian league comes back from it's winter break this weekend and Roma travel to Messina. In Spain Barca have to go to Espanyol hoping to bounce back from a draw last week. Good luck to both.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Out gunned

Now we'll have to concentrate on the league. I have to say that I thought it was a really good match. We played some great stuff but Arsenal were a lot more clinical than we were. We tried to play football against them and paid the price. Teams who concentrate on kicking them, such as Sheffield Utd, Bolton and Everton, have shown that you can get results that way. Xabi should have been given a peno at 0-0. Can't believe he got booked. The ref, Bennett was a joke. I thought it was looking like a 2-2 draw until Henry go the third. Rafa wouldn't have been happy with a draw and a replay given our fixture congestion. I would have prefered to win yesterday and lose the carling cup tie on Tue.

I was surprised that Pepe didn't start ahead of Jerzy who was a bit all over the place. He will always be a hero for Istanbul but I think that he could have done better for all of the goals. Pepe probably would have saved at least one of them. The defence overall wasn't that clever. Riise had one of his poorer games. I wouldn't be surprised to see Lucas Neil get the left back spot if and when he signs.

In our attacking play we did fairly well for most of the game but we lacked the clinical finishing that Arsenal had. It's been a case quite a few times this season that we've created many chances but have been unable take them. What sepparates us from Utd and Chelsea is top class penetration and finishing. Utd have great penetration and pace down the flanks with Giggs and Ronaldo. Chelsea don't as they aren't using wingers this season but they do have a clinical finisher in Drogba. If we are to challenge for top spot in the league then I think that we will need to get a top class winger.

Off the pitch, the protest by Kop was an amazing sight. Cards spelling out "The Truth" were held up to protest over Kelvin McKenzie who was editor of the Sun at the time of the Hillsborough disaster. You can read more about the source of that here. There was 6 minutes of incredible noise which was halted exactly 6 mins into the game, to coincide with the timing of the suspension of the match at Hillsborough.

And now time for rumour control. I had very little belief in the Mascherano rumours until Chris Bascombe wrote a story on it in the Liverpool Echo last week. You can read it here. He is very reliable on news in relation to the club. He says that our interest in Mascherano in genuine. I don't know if the deal is likely to go through now or in the summer but I think that he would be a good addition to the club. I would imagine that'll mean the end of Zenden which is fair enough.

Other rumours are much less likely to come off in my view. I've talked of Neil before and that one will happen. I'm surprised that it hasn't happened already. Gareth Bale, a young Welsh left back at Southhampton, has been linked to us and the other big clubs. I've heard great things but if it goes to a bidding war I don't see us competing. Niether Utd nor Chelsea really need a left back but that may not stop them bidding for him. Some mad rumours have linked Henry. It'll never happen. There are also storied that Deco has had a row with Frank R at Barca and could leave. I think that he's a great player but I don't really think that he would fit into our system.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Bolton battered

The second half performance today was possibly our best of the season so far. Jermaine "asbo" Pennant had his best game ever for us. I was starting to get worried about the lad but if he can show this kind of form on a regular basis then he should be confident of staying at the club. Himself and the always impressive Finnan formed a great double act down the right. Gonzal├ęz wasn't as effective but both players stayed wide to strech the bolton play and pin them back. Kuyt was a dutch master again today. He scored one and set up another. I am glad that he scored. He is a fans favourite already but hasn't really gotten the goals that his play deserves. He's been unlucky with hitting the woodwork numerous times so it was great to see him get back amongst the goals again today. I would hope that he can score around 15 in the league this season. Crouchie got another of his overhead specials. His heading wasn't what it can be today but he made up for it with this spectacular effort here. As a commentator in America once said, that goal was as electricifying as a hairdryer thrown into a bathtub.

Our goals for and against is now 17-1 in our last seven games. The defence has really stepped up and is getting back to the form of last season. Sami was recalled today which didn't surprise me. He is still our best player in the air and is very useful against teams who like to pump it into the box. Isn't it surprising that there is no talk of zonal marking now that we are keeping clean sheets left, right and centre?

Next up is Arsenal in the FA cup and then the carling cup match against them. I would like to win both but I have to say that I wouldn't be that put out to see us drop out of one of the domestic cups. We're fighting on all fronts and could do with a few fixtures less. Winning a cup is great, as we saw in Cardiff last may but Europe is the big prize as we saw in Istanbul. I would trade a FA Cup and a Carling cup for another night like that legendary one we had 18 months ago. Check out my favourite youtube clip here if you need refreshing on the best match ever. Still brings a tear to my eye.