Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Toffees get the blues

Well it wasn't a classic, unlike this derby a few years back. Jocky Hansen was impressed with our performance and disappointed with Everton. I thought they didn't create anything of note. Even though we didn't improve on our one goal lead, it proved enough as Everton were at nothing. So no chance of a trip to the grand national from Moyes for them so.

I thought that Sami and "Slovak hero Martin Skrtel" were superb at the back and coped well with Yakubu or "the Yak" as a cringe inducing Andy Grey kept calling him. Lucas came in for the suspended Masch and did alright. He hit some nice passes and linked play well but gave it a away a few times and was also caught in possession and out muscled at time. He definitely needs a weights programme this summer to beef himself up. Torres was a threat as always. Gerrard supported him well and the two of them gave Everton no end of problems.

Stevie thinks that we should have scored more. Rafa wasn't happy with the abuse that he got from the bitters. It was great to see him answer them with a great performance and he was unlucky to see a first half shot from distance come back off the post with Howard beaten all ends up.

It turns out that moany Moyes is a Torres fan and who would blame him? He said: "It was like playing against two men at times in the first half because of the way he occupied our centre-halves." Moyes was saying that he loves the Derbies beforehand. I wonder if he feels the same way now? 6 points from the two matches for us this season.

So now it's time for the Arsenal tripple bill. We'll be sick of the sight of them by the end of next week after this. If I had to predict the outcomes I would say that we'll get through in the champions league but they'll beat us in the league. In the other matches I fully expect Barcelona, Chelsea and Utd to go through.

The news that Sami is likely to sign a new deal comes as a relief. While there's no doubt that we've badly missed Dagger this season, Sami has stepped in and performed much better than I had expected him to.

George Gillett did a radio interview in Canada which was covered by the Liverpool Echo. You can listen to it here.

Ballague in the Times has an interview with his mate Rafa. Worth a read. And this blog about Raf's spending breaks down his transfers in and out. Not as much spent as some might think.

Rafa says that the summer's transfer business has already begun. He's got agreements for two young players and a senior player who will go into the starting XI. The Mail on Sunday speculate that the senior player is Rafinha from Shalke. He'd be a great signing in my view. We've also been linked with a young Croat midfielder called Rakitic at the same club.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Mad Masch

If you're feeling down after the Utd defeat then have a look at this. It tells the real story of what happened at Old Trafford. I wasn't too confident going into this unlike previous years, and thought that a draw was the best that we might have gotten. I thought that we looked nervous and a lot of our big players didn't perform. We probably would have been beaten anyway as Utd were the better team on the day but once we had 10 men it was a question of by how many.

My feelings on the sending off are that Bennett was a disgrace all match and was as blatant a homer as you're likely to see. That said, Javier should have stayed away from him after he had received the first booking and not risked getting a second. I can understand his fury as Torres booking was a disgrace given the kicking he was receiving. But Mascherano should have been mature, calm and professional enough to know that by getting involved and getting a second yellow he let the team down. Whatever slim chance we had went at that point. Rafa says that Masch knows he made a mistake. By not leaving the field he faces the prospect of an extended ban. But I think that if it had been Rooney, Terry, Neville or Ferdinand in the same situation they wouldn't have been sent off. How often have we seen them crowd and abuse the ref? Terry even stopped the ref from taking out his yellow card this season. Ferdinand was trying to talk the ref into booking our players on Sunday. Rooney berates refs every match he plays. How come they don't get sent off? There is an an awful lot of leverage allowed for England players. Gerrard can be guilty of it too, especially at Anfield but by and large I don't think that we crowd and abuse the ref en mass like some of our rivals. Maybe we should as it didn't seem to do Keane at Utd any harm.

David Pleat makes the point that it was long balls over the top which caused us problems. Rooney targeted Carragher knowing that he had the beating of him with pace and trickery. Carragher was poor and could have given away a peno for a challenge on Rooney. The ease at which the defence was being torn apart had a knock on effect on Pepe who missed some punches which was costly. His distribution, which is normally superb was poor on Sunday too. But I can't remember the last time he's had a poor game for us and he did make some super saves which prevented us from losing 5 or 6 nil.

According to Sky Sports Torres is unlikely to play for Spain tomorrow which is great news. Unfortunately, it means that he's a doubt for the derby. We're definitely going to need him against a very up for it Everton. They are in poor enough form having taken 1 point from 6 but they always raise their game for the derby. Given we've a superior goal difference and 2 more points, a draw mightn't be too bad a result. But if Torres is fit and the fact that they're missing a few players, we really should be able to win at home.

The BBC gossip page yesterday said that we will bid £12m for David Bentley in the summer. I think that it's a position that we have to look at in the summer as Dirk is only a stop gap there. Bentley is decent but I think that we can do better for a £12-15m winger. He'd give us a lot in terms of set pieces, crossing and goals but he doesn't have the pace that we need out wide. Another player linked to us on the forums is Gareth Barry of Aston Villa. I think that he's another good player but again we can do better. If we're buying him for left back then I think that he'd be an improvement. I hope that he's not being bought because Xabi wants to go back to Spain. It looks like David Villa wants to leave Valencia in the summer and we're one of the clubs being linked with him. I know that Rafa tried to sign him when he was still at Zaragosa and he is a top quality player. But I don't know if he would fit into our current 4-2-3-1 system. I think that we could spend the large amount of money that he would cost, on more pressing needs.

Everyone's favourite saga continues to rumble on and on and on. This article suggests Hicks is in financial trouble and DIC could reap the rewards. Let's hope it's accurate.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Reading, Arsenal and 100 posts

Another professional win and another 3 points v Reading. Monster Masch got off the mark with a stormer of a strike from outside the D after Matejovsky had opened the scoring for the visitors. It took a free kick from Gerrard and a far post header from El Nino to seal the deal.

I don't think that it was our best performance but we would have lost or drawn this game had it been played when we were in our bad patch in Jan. We stuck to the task in hand after going behind to an early goal. Torres had a 1 v 1 with the keeper and Babel had a couple of dangerous shots. Kuyt was fairly poor and neither of the full backs covered themselves in glory. We should have scored a third to calm the nerves but we didn't and then sat back which let Reading come back into it at the death. Thankfully we held out.

We have a full week off until Sky's big hype Sunday when we play Utd in Old Trafford. I am a bit worried about the game but we're in great from. They struggled a bit against Derby and weren't convincing against Portsmouth or Lyon before that. In El Nino we have the most exciting player in the league at the minute. I think that we're good enough to get a draw but they have a very good home record. The fact that Everton were beaten by Fulham yesterday takes the pressure off somewhat. The derby at the end of the month is still going to be massive though.

The champions league draw was made on Friday morning at 12, or was it? This article suggests that it could have been leaked beforehand. I was a bit suspicious but have a look at this forum. The poster has the draw correct at 10.28. The odds of guessing correctly are 191-1 apparently. Arsenal is a really tough draw. We're going to be playing them three times in the space of a week. We do have the experience of going all the way in the comp which they lack. The fact that they seem to be falling out of form is also promising. Let's hope that it continues until next month.

Dion Fanning in the Irish Indo had a good article on Rafa and rotation at the weekend. The more the facts are getting printed, the better.

This is bad news. I had half suspected that he wouldn't be back this season but it's still a blow to have it confirmed. We've really missed him but hopefully Skrtel can come in and fill the gap for the next few months. What's more important for the player in the long term is that Agger gets this problem sorted once and for all. The news that Kewell is heading off to an Australian training camp is less disturbing.

Here's to 100 more posts.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

"Whatever happens, Istanbul, May 2005. Thanks Liverpool."

So said the banner on the curva and there was mutual applause from both sets of fans at the end of the match. We gave the Inter Ultras one of their best ever nights when we beat AC Milan in the final three years back. The performance last night wasn't up their with that epic night but it was a sign that our team is as good as any in Europe over two legs. With Rafa pulling the strings and the likes of Reina, Carra, Gerrard and Torres in the side, I don't see any reason why we can't get to a third final in four years.

1-0 was the score on the night and was a fair enough result. Inter had some reasonable chances in the first half but our defence led by Carra (100 euro appearances) and Sami put them under pressure and didn't give them a second. When they did get a shot off, Pepe was able to make a save like he did from a Cruz effort. Zlatan had some clever approach play but left his shooting boots behind and didn't get an effort on target.

Mascherano was superb again in midfield. He was up against two formidable opponents in Cambiasso and the excellent Zanetti, and an over the hill one in Viera. Ably assisted by Lucas, who was efficient without being spectacular, and Gerrard, they had problems initially but exerted more control as the match went on.

Up front, Babel and Kyt worked hard but neither were great here. Torres was good and a threat on the break which kept their defence honest. When the goal did come it was worth waiting for. Great stuff from the unstoppable Nino.

It got easier once Burdisso was sent off for his second yellow. When we scored, Inter's collective head's dropped. Mancini wasn't happy and was waving imaginary cards in the air. It's common to see this from continental players but not from managers.

Our win has prompted Mancini to quit his post at Inter come the end of the season. Jose for the next inter manager?

Alonso stayed behind for the birth of his child. Some of the tabloids said that Rafa now wants rid of him but the boss denied this. I read online a few months back that Xabi wants to leave for Spain to raise their child there. I'd be sad to see him leave but that's a lifestyle choice for him and his family which is totally fair enough.

Henry Winter in the Telgraph says something that I myself thought last night. I was planning to say in this post that Mascherano was like a younger, livelier, Argentine version of Marshal P├ętain with his "Ils ne passeront pas" attitude. Damn those professional journalist with their deadlines, beating me to it.

There is a great blog post on Setanta that should be made required reading for Gray, Redknapp, Keys and the rest of the goons on Sky. The crucial point here is that Torres has only been rested for two league games where he was fit. Gray doesn't let this get in the way of a cheap dig and last night said that Rafa "rests Torres 'time and again'". Ronaldo has been rest/rotated for three Utd matches this year, one of which was a defeat to Fulham. Why doesn't Gray go on about that?

Daniel Taylor has a good article on the match in the guardian. One paragraph in particular stood out for me.

"The thing about Torres is that he can make opponents feel old and spectators feel young, and this was another sublime goal to add to his collection. The best players rise to the occasion, something that is frequently used as a stick to beat Cristiano Ronaldo, an attacker of sublime talent yet one who has seldom illuminated the Champions League on Manchester United's foreign excursions."

There is only one Zlatan apparently. I don't think that he showed up last night when needed. Still a good player though.

It's Reading's turn to visit Anfield this Saturday at 3. I know that we're in good form at the moment so we should be able to do it, especially as we owe them one from when they beat us 3-1 back in December. We really need to make the most of this given that our next three games are Utd, Everton and Arsenal. Let's make hay while the sun shines.

Two players that we've recently been linked to from la liga are Arango and Trejo from Real Mallorca. Samir Nasri, a player we've been linked to in the past, has only 18 months left on his contract according to this report. Does that mean we'll put in a cheap bid in the summer?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Torres terrorises Toon

Another 3 points and another 3 goals. Ever since the Barnsley result, we've been flying in the league. That's 16 points out of a possible 18 in our last six matches which makes us the most in form team in the league. We're now just 2 points behind Chelsea, having played two games more. I would be very surprised to see us catch them for third unless they colapse, but it would be good to see us close the gap and finish a good bit ahead of Everton or Villa.

The opening half hour of the match was poor enough with both teams struggling to impose themselves on the game. We got a very lucky break for Pennants opener. He hasn't scored many for us, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. I don't know if he fits into this 4-2-3-1 system very well. To be honest, I wouldn't be surprised or disappointed to see him leave in the summer. He's not a bad player but we can do better. Time to trade up and get a top quality right sided player. Kuyt does a good job there but we need somebody who will be as dangerous on the right as Babel is on the left.

Gerrard and Torres combined wonderfully for our next two goals. First Gerrard played a wonderfully weighted through ball for El Nino to run onto. He dummied Harper and went around him to slot into an empty net despite the efforts on the Toon defence. His 19th league goal of the season. Then Torres returned the favour by setting Stevie free. He lobed a delicate chip over the on rushing Harper to claim his tenth league goal. Great stuff. These two look to have developed a superb understanding with Gerrard pushing on from midfield to support Torres. Coupled with the threat from Babel on the left and supplied by some crossing from Kuyt on the right, our attacking play has come on hugely in the past month. I hope that we can keep this from up for the remainder of the season.

The captain gives us his thoughts from the uefa site ahead of the Inter match this Tue. Mascherano is in the squad that travelled so I'm hoping he's fit enough to start. We'll need him at his best. Inter are going to put on the pressure and we'll need to withstand it. I can see us trying to hit them on the break with the pace of Torres, Gerrard and Babel. It's vital that we don't make it harder for ourselves by conceding an early goal.

Somebody has gone and given our squad the simpsons treatment. Want some more? Well then check out this great interview with Torres from Spanish tv. Michael Robinson, the host, played for Liverpool back in the day. He got Torres, Reina an Arbeloa to have dinner with Sammy Lee, King Kenny and Souness. Great viewing.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Irons hammered

4-0 and all's well. Goal number 1, a right footed half volley from a Kuyt cross. Goal 2 was a looped header over Green with Kuyt the provider again. Goal 3 was a close ranged effort coolly slotted past the keeper after Riise flicked the ball on. The boy done well. And to think, that he had a bug which caused him to miss training this week. Rafa said that he was unlikely to play. Gerrard wrapped it up with a strong run from midfield and a powerful finish to make it 4-0. Job done.

Babel did alright and had a few shots on target. But compared to the the Bolton match he was average. His touch let him down on a few occasions. Kuyt did well and got two assists. He may not be the long term solution for us on the right but can cross the ball with both feet and has done a good job there over the last half dozen games. Skrtel was great at the back alongside Carra. His pace and passing give us what we've been missing since Agger's injury. He made one superb run from defence where he beat a couple of players. I was hoping that he would take on the shot but he misplaced a pass to the right instead. I thought that it would be a copy of Agger's first goal for the club. A polished performance all around.
It's a slog on the tyne at the moment. Poor Kevin Keegen isn't proving to be the second coming so far. It's a great opportunity for us to put three points between us and Everton who are now in fourth. Newcastle still have some decent players but are thoroughly devoid of confidence at the minute. Let's hope that we can capitalise on it this Saturday afternoon.

The DIC/Gillett/Hicks saga drags on and on. DIC are in negotiations with Gillett to buy his half. I'm hoping that this will happen but there's no concrete news as yet. I'm sure that you're as bored with this as I am and want a solution asap.