Sunday, November 18, 2007

It's all kicking off - part 2

Four items on the agenda today.

1. Very well done against Newcastle. Another 3 points in the bag away from home. Our away bag is now the fullest in the league. Long may it continue. 3-0 at St James' Park is always a good result. The press tomorrow will say that the Toon were shit, and they were. But we played very well and we could have had a lot more goals.

Gerrard answered his critics, and the Toon fans booing him, in style. He hit a superb free kick to open the scoring and had a hand in the next two goals. Stevie played in the middle with Lucas and Momo alongside him. This is an effective away from home tactic and has worked well for Chelsea in the past. Lucas had a great game bar a dip just before the end of the first half. He passed and tackled superbly. He sat a bit deeper today which let Momo move forward to hassle the opposition and Gerrard pull some strings. Lucas will be a great alternative for Xabi in times to come. A really impressive first Premier League start from the young Brazilian. Momo was poor again. He hassled and harried as he does and was as effective as ever without the ball. But his touch and passing were as bad as they have been in recent times. Great to see Harry manage to play 55 mins. We'll need him in the weeks ahead.

Torres played very well but his finishing was slightly off. He could have had four or five goals if he was on top form. He was unlucky to see one effort on half time hit the post but the keeper was out of the way so he really should have scored. Kuyt had a mixed game. He was doing his usual workhorse role supporting Torres from behind and out wide. He didn't do too much for his goal beyond being in the right place. But they all count and he has three in the league now. It was a definite improvement on some of his recent form but there is still a long way to go before he's back to his best. Babel came on in the second half and ran Newcastle ragged from the right. Rafa seems to prefer using the Dutch kid as an impact sub for now. It's working well and he gave the home defenders a nightmare. He combined superbly with Gerrard for the third score. It was a sublime goal and the pick of the bunch. I'm a big fan of Babel and hope that he keeps improving at his current rate.

The defence did what it had to do, which wasn't much at all. Martins was well managed by Carra and Sami. There wasn't a huge amount of threat from them anywhere else. Arbeloa had another good match at left back. Between him, Aurelio and Insua we will be able to cope at left back if Riise is sold in Jan.

Utd dropped 3 points against Bolton today was an unexpected bonus. I really didn't expect that to happen. It looked to me like the big four teams all winning before the matches began. We're now three points behind Utd and two behind City, with a game in hand, which is a decent situation. Unfortunately, we're still 6 points behind Arsenal without games in hand. They could do with slipping up and letting us back into the race. That's not too much to ask for, is it?

2. The board v Rafa battle rumbles on. I was hoping that we had left this behind when it all kicked off in the summer. This is a really bad situation and I'm very worried. Rafa came out in the press conference on Thursday and made it clear that he's not happy with the Hicks and Gillett in relation to transfer plans. They seem to have told him to concentrate on training and coaching the current players. I hate to our dirty laundry being washed in public. Things seem to be slightly better after the match today and Rafa said that the row wasn't serious. Hopefully this is the case and both parties can move forward. Unfortunately I fear that Rafa will walk away from the club sooner or later over the boards conduct of transfers and lack of speed. The plan in the summer was rumoured to be that Foster Gillett would be based on Merseyside to work with Parry and Rafa on transfers. It now appears that we went back to US after the Arsenal game and hasn't been back since. I think that they will be able to sort this out short term but I can see this row erupting again in 6 months and Rafa walking in the summer. It'll be a sad day for the club is he does leave as he's a superb manager and the perfect man for the job. His resignation would set us back around 3-4 years in my view.

3. The Porto match on wed night is huge. We're in much better form than we were when we played them in Portugal. But they're still a good team and will cause us problems. We have to win and will be going for it from the start. If we don't score early, I can see the sitting back and trying to hit us on the break with the likes of Quaresma. An early goal and it mightn't be too bad. But we'll have to go for it as we're out if we fail to win.

4. AOB. Javi Martinez has been linked to us recently. He's another young creative midfielder, who plays for Athletic Bilbao, so I don't really see where he fits into the plans at the moment. Rafa then came out on the official site and said that we aren't interested in signing him now. We have more than enough central midfielders at the moment though. Maybe he'll be a target if we sell Momo.

Until Wednesday. Anfield awaits.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Cottagers capitulate

I thought that it was going to be one of those days, but it turns out I was wrong, it was one of these days. We had played quite well but hadn't got the goals that our play deserved. Then Rafa decided to unleash the kid. 20 mins to go and a match that looked like it would be another disappointing home point, was converted into three. The miracle of the loaves and fishes has nothing on this in multiplication terms.

We did create a few chance and should have been in front earlier. Crouch was unlucky to see a header hit the wood work o the stroke of halftime. Voronin had a few chances, one of which Niemi did well to save. The Finnish keeper repeated his heroics to turn a curling shot from Yossi around the post. But for all of our pressure, possession and persistence, it looked as if we were headed for parity.

Enter Torres. The media had a field day with the fact that Rafa named an unchanged team. Where was the "rotation"? The unchanged team hadn't produced the good so Rafa made a change to bring on the young fella. Torres had 20 mins and immediately looked dangerous. His goal was fantastic. A long kick out from Pepe arrived on his chest and he controlled it effortlessly. He turned Hughes one way and then another. Torres has the lethal combination of pace and quick feet. This combo proved too much for Highes as Torres shot through his legs. Poor Niemi had no chance and was beaten at his near post. Nice.

We were a bit lucky. with the peno. On the replay it does look like the foul occurred outside the box. I don't think that Crouch made a meal of it, there was a tackle and he went down, fair enough. Gerrard steeped up and took the peno. I am never 100% confident with him taking them but he's scored a lot more than he's missed. 2-0, job done.

There were many quality performers including Crouch, Voronin, Benayoun, Arbeloa and the two subs Babel and Torres. Babel caused a lot of problems with his pace, strength and direct running. As I've said on here before, he isn't the finished article yet, but he has the attributes needed to make it at the top level. Some of his decision making can be suspect when he takes a shot rather than passing. But I feel that we can coach him into playing a more team game while maintaining his goal threat.

All in all it was a pretty good weekend for us. Chelsea could only manage a draw against the bitter blues today which means that we're now a point behind Chelsea and 6 points behind Utd with a game in hand and Arsenal play tomorrow. Given how poor our form has been and injuries we've suffered last month, we're not in that bad a position. Hopefully we won't suffer anymore over the international break and Xabi and Agger will be back in two weeks when we play Newcastle. Benayoun is out now too but Torres isn't going away with Spain which is great news. The Toon are in shit form at the mo. Big Sam isn't working the wonders that they might have expected. I'm sure that he will get them in order eventually but now might be a good time to play them.

It looks like Utd have beaten us to the signing of John Cofie from Burnley. This is a bit of a disappointment but there's no guarentee that he'll make it and we're looking to sign a few youngsters of our own at the moment.


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Eighth wonder

Ruthless. Liverpool were like MC Ren of NWA last night. 8, that's the magic number. 8-0. Despite all that, Crouch isn't happy. He feels that we should have had more. Greedy bugger.

It's hard to pick out individuals after a performance like that. Almost everyone had a great match. We scored 8 and played some beautiful football. I don't want to be negative but Riise was notable in his inability to join in with the one touch football. But he had his part to play too and set up a fwe goals with his vicious shots which the keeper couldn't save. He did have his usual quota of wayward efforts over the bar though.

Crouch was notable in opening and closing the scoring. He got a bit lucky with the first but reacted well and finished well beyond the keeper. The final goal was a great header after a cross from the wing. I think that he made a telling contribution and put down a marker. It'll be hard for Rafa to drop him for Fulham unless Torres is fit.

Yossi grabbed a hat trick but it was his all round play which was impressive. His first goal was lovely but his second and third were tap ins. He drifted all over the front third and supported the strikers well. Arbleoa provided width and protection on the right, allowing Yossi to go where he needed.

Voronin had a superb game. He linked midfield and attack in a clever manner. His link up play for Gerrards goal was a joy to behold. He did a great job of bringing the likes of Yossi, Babel, Kewell and Gerrard into the game. He didn't grab a goal for himself but he wasn't far off.

The boy Babel done well. His first goal was the pick of the bunch for me. If Rooney or Ronaldo scored that one we would be hearing about it for a long time. He got lucky with the second but was unlucky to see a headed effort hit the bar. Granted it's easier to come on against a team who are already beaten and look good, but this was a cameo of the riches he has. I think that if we persist with him he'll go onto be a star for us.

So we still have to win our two final games in the champions league. I think that we're capable of it but it won't be easy. Porto visit Anfield in the next game. It's a pity that they beat Marseille last night but we know what we need to do. If we win the two games we should be able to go through.

Back to domestic matters this sat when Fulham come to Anfield. They aren't in great form and this is a good opportunity for us to get back on track in the league. Torres might even be fit but I would imagine it'll be a case of him sitting on the bench unless needed again. We don't want him heading off with Spain and getting injured again.

Bring on the cottagers.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

A tale of three strikers

Exhibit A - Dirk Kuyt. Dirk had a terrible day at the office on Saturday. He is going through a crisis of confidence at the moment. He had a few chances but couldn't hit the target and when he did, Friedal was more than equal to it. Rafa is a big fan and seems to want to let him play through it. I don't think that he is clinical enough to play up front on his own, as he did on Sat. I like Dirk too but I don't think that he works well with Crouch or Voronin, only Torres.

Exhibit B - Peter Crouch. Crouch came on as as second half sub and almost changed the game. I don't know what he did to annoy Rafa, but he seems well out of favour at the minute. I would like to see him get more game time while Torres isn't ready because he looks like the striker who's most likely to score. I don't know if Crouch has a long term future at the club but I definitely think that he's the man for the moment.

Exhibit C - Fernando Torres. It sounds like the news might be better than had been previously hoped. He was back in training today after his muscle injury and faces a late fitness text for tomorrow. I can't imagine that he'll be risked after the last time but he might get a place on the bench for a last gasp throw of the dice if we need him. We're looking fairly blunt without him.

Harry Kewell was a welcome sight when he came on as a second half sub. If, and it's a big if, he can stay fit for a while, then he could do a huge job for us on the left and nail down that position. Despite his injuries, he's still the best winger that we have in my opinion. He did well in the 20 or so mins that he got on Saturday by stretching the play and taking his man on. I would imagine that he'll be an impact sub for the next few games while his builds up his fitness.

Babel started on the wing against Blackburn. Babel clearly has talent with his pace, power, control and shooting. But he hasn't really been able to put it all together so far. I feel that it might be after Christmas or next season before he beds in properly and makes a telling contribution. Here's what Wenger has to say on new signings.

"When I sign a player I don't judge him at all in the first six months. Never. I give him six months to adapt and don't put any pressure on him because I know what it takes. You have to settle and get the right level. You start to look at him really in January and February."

The draw for the Carling Cup quarter finals was made on Sat and we'll be heading to Stamford Bridge at the end of December. They have a superb home record so I'd be surprised if we get anything out of that one. It is only the Carling Cup though.

Oliver Kay has an article in the Times where he says that we're near an agreement for John Cofie From Burnley. United and Chelsea are after him too but it sounds like we're in the driving seat as he attended the Cardiff match last week. He's 15, plays up front and could cost anything between £250000 and £1m. Lauri Dalla Valle, a 16 year old Finn who I've mentioned before here, is also being tipped to arrive in Jan.

It's do or die against Besiktas tomorrow. It's time to stand up and spout cliches. Win and we have a chance, anything less and we're out. We should be more than capable but then again, I said the same about Porto, Marseille and the Turkish trip.

Here's hoping.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The second coming, part 2

He has come again. God walks among us once more. But lucky for us, even God couldn't prevent Cardiff from going down 2-1 at Anfield last night with his heir delivering the fatal blow.

As expected, it was a fairly young team and we got to see some of the youngsters in action. Jack Hobbs, Charles Itandje, Nabil El Zhar, Seb Leto and Lucas all started. It was also notable in so far as two of our oft injured players got game time in Aurelio who started and Kewell who came on in the second half.

Hobbs did quite alright at the back and he did have Carra beside him, giving tips and bollickings if needed. Itandje made a couple of smart saves, notably from a Fowler free kick. Leto didn't have a great game. It's hard to know what to make of him. I've seem him play very well for the reserves on LFC TV but it doesn't look like he's ready for the step up to the first team yet, if ever. Lucas played very well in the middle beside Stevie but he did seem to tire towards the end and gave the ball away a few times. Up until then he had been superb. I think this lad can do a job for us in the Xabi role while we're waiting for the master to return from injury. El Zhar opened the scoring with a cracking strike from distance. It was a superb goal but again I don't think that he's ready for the step up to the first team. He still looks a bit lightweight.

Yossi cam on and did fantastically well to set up Stevie for the winner. I would like to see Yossi get more game time now that Pennant is out. He's an intelligent player who has pace, great control, good link up play and an eye for goal. He gives us something different to what we already have. I think that he's been underused so far but I'm hoping that will change now.

Blackburn away is going to be really tough. They are in great form at the moment having won their last few games. We have good domestic away form but this will be our toughest journey so far this season. The news that Bently and Mokoena should be out is good for us. It sounds like we won't have our spine of Agger, Xabi and Torres back for this one, in fact, it could be another two weeks before we see any of them. I wouldn't be surprised to see Momo start this game if he's recovered from his illness as Rafa likes him for these kind of games. I predict an away draw. A win would be great but I think Blackburn have enough to take 2 points from us.

Fordies had an interesting post last month saying that we are going to try and bring in three players next month. He reckons these are James McCarthy from Hamilton Academicals who we've been linked to before, John Cofie a young midfielder from Burnley and Samir Nasri from Marseille. He reckon that we've built up a good relationship with them after doing business over Cisse and Zenden. Nasri would be expensive, around £11m according to Fordies. I haven't seen much of this lad but he's destined for great things by all accounts.

Let's make Ewood park threewood park tomorrow. Sorry, that was terrible.