Liverpool – an added spark in the race for the Premier League top four

Over recent seasons it has been predominantly five main teams fighting it out for the top four places in the Premier League. Manchester United, City and Chelsea have ambitions of winning the division, while north London rivals Tottenham and Arsenal battle each other for the fourth place and Champions League qualification.

Admittedly Newcastle were a result or two short of breaking into this tight-knit group last term, and Everton are now aiming higher this season. However, a real shot in the arm to the Premier League’s top-four race could be the seemingly rejuvenated Liverpool.

Since the Merseyside club dropped out of top-four contention in 2009-10 with a seventh placed finish, virtually at no time have the Reds looked like they have the quality or consistency to challenge for Champions League qualification; until now. With Brendan Rodgers’ principles starting to be adopted by the playing staff, slowly but surely, Liverpool are starting to look like a side that could play in Europe’s top tournament once more.

Liverpool celebrate

Since the start of the Premier League in 1992-93 until the 2009-10 season, the Reds finished in the top four 12 times out of 17. A club with such a massive fanbase, triumphant history and 18 top-flight title wins under its belt has expectation to live up to, especially amongst the Kop faithful.

Inconsistency is still not totally eradicated from Liverpool’s game, but results and performances are starting to look up. In seventh place currently and nine points behind fourth-placed Spurs, having played a game more, it will be a big ask for the Anfield side to make the Champions League qualification places this term, but not impossible. However, come next season the club will look to breach the top four.

Given the quality of players at the Reds disposal it is not inconceivable that they should be in the running for the top four. In Daniel Sturridge they have a proven goalscorer, Luis Suarez possibly the best striker in the land and Raheem Sterling a diamond in the rough. Add to this the potential of Philippe Coutinho, enterprise of Lucas Leiva and experience of Steven Gerrard. With a more-solid looking rearguard and the limitation of individual errors from Pepe Reina, Liverpool have the potential to be as good as they have been in years.

The 49 goals they have scored in the Premier League this term is more than Manchester City and Tottenham; the club is seemingly on the up and if another quality signing or two is added in the summer, Brendan Rodgers’ men will look to start better in 2013-14 and challenge for a place amongst the big boys.

Can Brendan Rodgers’ appointment restore Liverpool’s former glory?

It has been two very different seasons for managers Kenny Dalglish and Brendan Rodgers, with a disappointing eighth place finish for the Anfield outfit – scraping silverware in the Carling Cup – whilst the Swans of South Wales have comfortably survived their first year of Premier League football. However, the 39 year-old Northern Irishman will face one of his biggest challenges yet as the new Liverpool manager.

Brendan Rodgers has had a fantastic year, managing Swansea City, and no one could have predicted the outcome of their first season in top-flight football since 1983.  Swansea caused many upsets against the big teams including wins over Manchester City, Arsenal and a 1-0 defeat of Liverpool on the last day of the season. Often called “The Welsh Barcelona”, due to their unique approach to possession football, not to mention Leon Britton, who is Europe’s most accurate passer above both Xavi and Andres Iniesta; Rodgers has developed a style of football based on starving the opposition of possession, relieving pressure with the ball, and sustaining patient build-up play until forwards, Danny Graham, Scott Sinclair, and Nathan Dyer, can produce something special in the final third.

As for the move to Liverpool, you can see why American owner John Henry has appointed Rodgers as the new manager, despite considering the options of Andre Villas-Boas, Roberto Martinez and Fabio Capello. When it comes to developing young British talent, Rodgers is the man you want. Starting as a youth team coach for Reading, and then moving to manage the youth team at Chelsea under Jose Mourinho, Rodgers will be able to bring the best out of the Liverpool youngsters who have endured a below par season including Jordan Henderson and Andy Carroll – the collective sum of around £50m.

As well as his experience in coaching youth players, Liverpool fans will be wondering if Rodgers will implement his entertaining brand of passing football into the Liverpool game, and if he will bring players over from his former Welsh side. 23 year-old Scott Sinclair, homegrown Joe Allen, and Icelandic superstar Gylfi Sigurdsson – who has not yet officially signed for Swansea after agreeing a fee of £6.8m – could be favourites to make a move considering Liverpool’s problems in midfield. The former Reading and Watford manager will bring with him first-team coach Colin Pascoe, match-analyst Chris Davies and conditioning expert Glen Driscoll to help him in his new start at Anfield.

On the other hand, it will be Rodgers’ first experience of managing a top-class team and their progress in Europe next season will be a real test of the Northern Irish manager’s ability not only to play in the Premier League, but to battle and win the Europa League. Unlike any club he has managed before, Rodgers will have to deal with big personalities such as Merseyside legend Steven Gerrard, and the controversial Luis Suarez.

To conclude, there is no doubt that Brendan Rodgers will be paramount to fixing the errors and mishaps of an unsatisfactory and forgettable season for Liverpool. He will have much to write about in his little notebook this summer and will hope to capitalise on a bigger budget than he’s ever had before. He might be praying that he doesn’t end up being just another Kop flop.

By Jacob Tucker

England vs France: The key battles in this Euro 2012 grudge-match

England have been drawn against old enemies France in Group D of Euro 2012, and the clash on June 11th will have a major bearing on each side’s chances of progression in the tournament. With a month to go before the nations do battle the Three Lions are slight favourites, but it should be a close encounter. With Sweden and Ukraine in the pool also, both teams will look to get an early advantage in the competition.

With the domestic campaigns drawing to a close in the Premier League and Ligue 1, Laurent Blanc and Roy Hodgson will have their squads for the tournament all but decided, with a few decisions potentially still to be made. Les Bleus coach has named a strong looking provisional squad, with a raft of English-based players included, whilst the West Brom man has revealed that he will name his contingent on Wednesday.

Despite the full tournament squads yet to be announced, the main players for both sides are known and will play a key role in deciding the outcome of the encounter. France have a good blend of young talent and experienced heads, and their strength lies in central midfield and in a couple of talented individual attackers. The battle for possession in the centre of the park will be a key element to deciding the outcome, with Blanc able to choose from Yohan Cabaye, Yann M’Vila, Alou Diarra and Morgan Amalfitano in the heart of his midfield. Scott Parker will have a role to play in breaking up the French passing game, whilst the likes of Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard will look to mix it with their opponents.

French matchwinners include skilful wingers Franck Ribery, Samir Nasri and Hatem Ben Arfa, whilst the goalt-hreat will be provided by Karim Benzema. England’s full-backs must monitor the widemen carefully, with a big responsibility falling on Kyle Walker, Micah Richards or Glen Johnson’s shoulders to shackle Bayern Munich superstar Ribery. The centre of the English defence will also be wary of giving Benzema space, as the Real Madrid man is one of Europe’s form strikers currently.

Going the other way, new boss Hodgson will be without his talismanic forward Wayne Rooney due to suspension, and has key decisions to make in attack. With Darren Bent still on the sidelines with injury and on the borderline of missing out, no other centre forwards shout out as sure things. Hodgson will consider the likes of Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge, Jermain Defoe, Andy Carroll and maybe even Peter Crouch to lead his line, but the English attack will be limited due to Rooney’s absence.

The eventual England squad should have pace to burn however, with widemen Ashley Young, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon all with the necessary speed to harry the French defenders. There is also a case for Paul Scholes’ inclusion to add a bit of creativity to the side, but Hodgson will look to his wingers to provide the necessary penetration.

The game is sure to full of natural pride and passion, but England must compete with the technical abilities of the France side to get a result. The odd goal may well decide this game, but it should be an exciting and enthralling match.

Published – Ghana Soccernet

England and Euro 2012: Who will be in the squad, and how will they fair in Group D?

England interim manager Stuart Pearce has this week revealed that the nation’s squad for Euro 2012 will be named before the end of the Premier League campaign, whether a new permanent boss is in place or not. With the last game of the season on Sunday 13th May, it is reasonable to expect the successful and unsuccessful players to be unveiled a couple of days before this. With this date only two weeks away, who will be stepping out for the Three Lions in Ukraine and Poland?

Goalkeepers – Joe Hart is a shoe-in, and the Manchester City stopper is an outside shout to be the next national captain. Consistent, agile and assured, Hart is a real attribute to the home nation.

GK to go: Hart, Carson, Stockdale

GK to miss out: Ruddy

Defenders – John Terry’s inclusion or exclusion could well depend on the new boss, with the consideration of Rio Ferdinand also entering into the equation; the Chelsea centre half is to stand court for racially abusing the Manchester United man’s brother Anton. Other central defenders to be included should be Gary Cahill, Phil Jones and Joleon Lescott.

At left back Ashley Cole will travel, whilst Leighton Baines is currently injured but will recover in time. On the right, PFA Young Player of the Year Kyle Walker will expect to be included, as will seasoned international Glen Johnson. Micah Richards has been an outcast under Fabio Capello, but under-21 boss Pearce would surely select his former player, potentially to the detriment of the Liverpool man.

DF to go: Walker, Richards, Cahill, Terry, Lescott, Jones, Cole, Baines

DF to miss out: Ferdinand, King, Johnson, Dawson, Smalling

Midfielders – England will most likely play four across midfield, and this will be the most tightly-contested element of the squad. Scott Parker and Frank Lampard are almost certainties, Steven Gerrard hangs in the balance depending on fitness, Paul Scholes is an outside shout, whilst Tom Cleverley, Jack Rodwell and Jack Wilshere will miss out through injury.

On the flanks, Ashley Young will travel if he stays fit, as will Stewart Downing despite an inconsistent campaign. Aaron Lennon needs to get back to his best, Jordan Henderson looks unlikely whilst Arsenal team-mates Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may well be in direct competition for a place.

MF to go: Young, Downing, Barry, Parker, Lampard, Gerrard, Scholes, Walcott

MF to miss out: Wilshere, Rodwell, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lennon, Henderson, Joe Cole, Cleverley, Carrick, Milner, A.Johnson

Strikers – Although Wayne Rooney will be suspended for the first two group games of the tournament, it will take a brave manager to leave out the Manchester United forward. Darren Bent faces a risk against time due to his knee injury, whilst Andy Carroll will need a strong end of season to convince the selectors. Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge should be included, whilst Jermain Defoe is a 50-50.

ST to go: Rooney, Welbeck, Sturridge, Defoe

ST to miss out: Bent, Carroll, Crouch

Group Games

England vs France, June 11: Old enemies renew their rivalry in the Group D opener, and these two will be favourites to progress. Without Rooney England may lack direction in attack, and will need to be regimented to stave off the advances of Ribery, Benzema and Remy.

Prediction: 0-0

England vs Sweden, June 15: The Three Lions have suffered disappointment against the Scandinavian nation in international competitions in the past, and Sweden are a slightly unpredictable entity. Led by AC Milan’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Swedes will be no pushover.

Prediction: 1-1

England vs Ukraine, June 19: With a tight group likely to go down to the wire, England will face co-hosts Ukraine in the last round of fixtures in what will be a test of their character and resolve. Rooney’s return will be a boost, but England must be at their best to quell a pumped-up opponent and crowd.

Prediction: 2-1 win

Published – Soccerlens

FA Cup semi-final against Everton key to Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool future

“Although we have won something today, that is not us finished. We don’t want to stop here, we want to keep going.” – Kenny Dalglish, speaking after Liverpool’s Carling Cup triumph over Cardiff City on 26th February.

It was the generic post-match sound-bite, conventional wisdom, almost, with one point that needed hammering home – to make sure fans knew that winning their first trophy for six years would not mean a slip back into the slumber for Liverpool Football Club.

Influential defenders Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger also chimed in with the official line and club captain Steven Gerrard added: “We won’t accept just this, we need more, we want more.”

However, since that victory at Wembley, the Reds have won just two of the eight league games played, with embarrassing reverses at the hands of QPR and Wigan Athletic. At the time of writing, the Reds sit eighth in the Premier League, 13 points behind fourth placed Tottenham and a point behind local rivals Everton.

So just why has LFC’s season unravelled?

Over £100 million has been spent on players who have so far, failed to live up to the expectations of playing for one of the biggest clubs in England. Players such as Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson and Andy Carroll (signed for a combined £71m) have flattered to deceive so far in their Anfield career and the jury is very much still out on all three north-east natives.

The departure of Damien Comolli this week, perhaps highlights the notion that all is not well in the corridors of power at Liverpool. Comolli’s sacking has been viewed by some, as an admission of fault on the transfer strategy by LFC owners Fenway Sports Group.

The clear blueprint of buying young British talent has so far yielded little; only Uruguayan international Luis Suarez, Spaniard Jose Enrique and the ageing Craig Bellamy have been unequivocal successes during the FSG reign.

Then there is manager Kenny Dalglish, who has come in for some criticism despite his legendary status at Anfield. The fans have reluctant to be overly critical of a man nicknamed ‘King’ but the Scot is not infallible and there have been groans of discontent aimed the manager from The Kop. The famous ‘Dalglish’ chant has been conspicuous by its absence in recent weeks.

Since the turn of the year, Liverpool’s form has dipped so dramatically that the only team with a worse points tally is bottom of the table Wolves, it is something that desperately needs addressing.

When the Reds overcame a spirited Cardiff at Wembley in February, there was still a realistic hope of securing a Champions League spot at the end of the season – something owner John W. Henry claimed would be a ‘major disappointment’ if they failed.

With just five games left to play, that coveted Champions League spot is far away in the distance, and the Reds have just the FA Cup to play for – they meet fierce rivals Everton at Wembley on Saturday.

If Dalglish wins a domestic cup double, it could hardly be considered a poor season for Liverpool. After all, teams with ambitions as lofty as Arsenal (and save for a remarkable finish to the Premier League, Manchester City) will finish the season without a trophy, but it is, and was Dalglish’s remit at the start of the season to finish in the top four.

Their season rests on the FA Cup. Win on Saturday; Dalglish has one last cup final to perhaps save his job. Lose – to their rivals – and finish below Everton in the Premier League, and Fenway Sports Group might be forced into action.

By Paul Gorst

Liverpool vs Everton: Merseyside bragging rights on the line in FA Cup semi-final

Merseyside rivals Liverpool and Everton go head-to-head on Saturday at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-final, in a massively important match for both sides. Kenny Dalglish will be eager to replicate the team’s heroics in the Carling Cup and draw attention away from under-par league form, whilst David Moyes knows that he is 180 minutes away from lifting his first trophy for the Goodison Park club.

Liverpool ended a terrible run of six defeats from seven games with a 3-2 victory over Blackburn on Tuesday night, with Andy Carroll heading the injury-time winner. Despite inconsistency in the league this campaign, the Reds have been more determined in the cup competitions, and have eliminated both Manchester clubs and Chelsea from the FA or Carling Cup this term.

Triumph in the Carling Cup has only papered over the cracks of a mediocre campaign for the Anfield outfit, with director of football Damien Comolli given the axe earlier in the week. King Kenny is now under pressure to deliver, and with ambitious American owners eager for success, a defeat to bitter rivals Everton would put a question mark over the Scottish manager’s future. With Liverpool also behind their cross-town neighbours in the Premier League standings, Reds fans are becoming impatient and frustrated.

Everton meanwhile have had a strong second half of the season, and David Moyes’ men have looked like a dangerous and difficult opponent since the turn of the year. The Toffees are up to seventh place in the league, and have beaten the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham over the last three months. Comprehensive victories over Sunderland both in the league and the last round of the cup will see Everton enter the fixture with confidence. However two derby defeats to Liverpool this term will stick in the memory, and spur Moyes’ men on.

A clever January transfer window has been a key factor in the club’s rejuvenation, with the additions of Steven Pienaar, Darron Gibson, temporarily Landon Donovan and especially Nikica Jelavic adding quality to an already able squad. The Croatian striker in particular has impressed, and the travelling Goodison Park fans will pray the ex-Rangers forward can inspire his team to victory on Saturday. Everton have not lifted a trophy since winning the FA Cup back in 1995, with a solitary Paul Rideout goal ensuring a 1-0 win over Manchester United.

A number of factors will be important in deciding the outcome of the fixture, with key personal battles all over the pitch. With Pepe Reina and Doni both unavailable, Brad Jones will start in goal for Liverpool, with their opponents sure to test the inexperienced stopper early on. The clash between England colleagues Leighton Baines and Glen Johnson could also play a part in the result, as both full-backs play an important role going forward for their sides.

In any Merseyside derby there will be passion, and the midfield battle between Steven Gerrard, Jay Spearing, Darron Gibson and Marouane Felliani will dictate possession. Finally, Luis Suarez and Nikica Jelavic will look to build on promising individual campaigns, and pose the biggest threat to goal.

Published – Soccerlens

Liverpool v Arsenal: Reds must win or kiss Champions League goodbye

Liverpool fans are on a high after winning the Carling Cup last weekend, with Kenny Dalglish and Steven Gerrard heralding the triumph as the start of a new era of success for the club. Whether this season is a success or not may well depend on the outcome of this Saturday’s fixture against Arsenal however. With the Reds currently in seventh place, seven points behind the Gunners in fourth, anything other than an Anfield victory will leave the Merseysiders too far behind the other challengers to qualify for the Champions League.

Although success in cup competitions is a step in the right direction for Liverpool, whether it is the Carling Cup or the FA Cup, the ability to finish in the top four will be the real litmus test to whether the club are back amongst the country’s elite once more. Winning cup games is one thing; showing the consistency over 38 games to be adjudged as one of the top teams in England takes more doing.

So far this campaign Liverpool have blown hot and cold, with good performances and wins being counter-balanced by dropping points against the so-called lesser teams. This irregularity has blighted the team and frustrated the fans; it is the reason that a team that can beat anyone on their day is not currently in the top four Premier League teams. That said, the Reds have been relatively good against the bigger teams this season, and on the back of their cup success will look to shorten the gap on the top four with a win over Arsenal this weekend.

The Gunners were staring into the abyss this time last week, with FA Cup elimination and Champions League embarrassment threatening to spoil their season. However, Arsene Wenger’s men showed that they are not willing to go quietly into oblivion by outplaying, out-battling and thoroughly beating Spurs 5-2 in the north London derby. The Emirates Stadium outfit will have their tails up after the victory, especially given the fact that they fought back from two goals down, and the away fans will hope that the resolve and determination shown last weekend will be re-enacted this time out.

Arsene Wenger’s backing of under-fire players has been a trait during his 15-year tenure at the club, and the French coach sternly believes in the ability of the players that he has nurtured from a young age. The current case in question is Theo Walcott, who’s potential has not been replicated into performances this term and the winger is at risk of missing out on Euro 2012 after playing at a sub-standard level for the majority of the campaign. Wenger left in-form Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the bench against Spurs; it will be interesting what role the latest Southampton youth protégé plays on Saturday.

There are a number of key battles that will decide the game. Daniel Agger broke a rib in the win over Cardiff, and will be replaced by dependable but ageing Jamie Carragher. The veteran’s centre defence partnership with Martin Skrtel at the back will be key, especially given the fact that Arsenal scored five in their last outing. Robin van Persie should play despite suffering a slight injury whilst on international duty, and is currently at the pinnacle of his abilities.

In midfield it is time for Steven Gerrard to get back to his best, but Alex Song will be keen to shackle the Anfield talisman come Saturday. Mikel Arteta is no Cesc Fabregas, but he is starting to make his mark on the north London club; the Spaniard will be motivated to win against Liverpool given his time at their rivals Everton.

Arsenal’s defence wasn’t especially tested against Tottenham, but it is likely to be pushed harder at Anfield.  Thomas Vermaelen looked shaky in the loss of two early goals to Harry Redknapp’s men, and the Belgium international and Laurent Koscielny must be better to foil Luis Suarez and the Liverpool attack.

Expect a close game; both sides need the points and are on a high after good results last weekend, but there isn’t room for both of these giants in next year’s Champions League.

Published – Soccerlens

Football’s Great Chokes

Football is a funny old game. One minute your team looks like they have a match or a league title in the bag, the next it can escape their grasp. The term ‘choke’ is synonymous in sporting circles with people or teams that are in a commanding position but suffer a meltdown mentally, losing their composure and consequently the match or competition. With the United States choke against Panama in the Gold Cup fresh in the memory, I have decided to look at some of the famous footballing chokes over the years.

AC Milan, Champions League Final 2005
The Champions League final is the biggest stage in world club football and AC Milan and Liverpool contested the 2005 final in Istanbul, Turkey. The game was a story of two choking sides, firstly Liverpool were the team to freeze up as they were overawed by the occasion and let in a soft goal in the first minute to veteran Italian defender Paolo Maldini. From there Rafa Benitez’s team conceded two more in the first half, with Kaka the architect and Argentine striker Hernan Crespo the executioner. Half time; Liverpool 0 Milan 3, it looked like it could get embarrassing for the English side. However choking can be infectious and the Rossoneri caught the bug in the second half, as Steven Gerrard inspired his side to fight back and the Italian side capitulated under the pressure of being 45 minutes away from European glory. Goals from Gerrard, Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso saw the match finish 3-3, go to penalties and it was Milan’s darling Andriy Shevchenko who eventually crumbled under the pressure and missed the decisive penalty, giving Liverpool the Champions League title.

Bayern Munich, Champions League Final 1999
Manchester United and Bayern Munich contested the 1999 Champions League final in the Nou Camp, Barcelona, in what would be a prime example of the footballing choke. In an end to end match the German side started the brighter, and deservedly took the lead through a Mario Basler effort after only six minutes. United attacked well but the German side had key chances to win the game by getting the decisive second goal; firstly Mehmet Scholl hit the post and then Carsten Jancker struck the crossbar with an overhead kick. With time almost up, Die Roten started to defend and retreat, looking to protect their precious goal advantage. Enter substitutes Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. In injury time Peter Schmeichel came forward to attack a United corner, and in a me-lay in the German box Sheringham managed to convert a poor clearance and give The Reds parity. However the best was yet to come as less than thirty seconds later Solskjaer toe poked home the winner following a Sheringham headed effort. Totally capitulation and a great football choke achieved by Ottmar Hitzfeld’s team in three minutes of injury time.

Tottenham, vs Manchester United, September 2001 and April 2009
Tottenham took on English Champions Manchester United at White Hart Lane on Saturday September 29th 2001, with much anticipation around the London club. In a barnstorming first half performance by the home side, goals from Dean Richards, Les Ferdinand and Christian Ziege gave Spurs a 3-0 lead at the break. North London was full of energy. This could be the start of something big for Glenn Hoddle’s men. Sir Alex Ferguson and United had other ideas as five second half goals from Andy Cole, Laurent Blanc, Ruud van Nistlerooy, Juan Sebastian Veron and David Beckham broke Spurs hearts and the game ended 5-3.

Almost eight years later and Harry Redknapp took his talented Tottenham side to Old Trafford to lock horns with The Reds, and in an attacking performance in the first half the London club found themselves 2-0 up at half time with goals from Darren Bent and Luka Modric. Redknapp will have urged his team not to solely sit back and defend, to have belief in themselves and to go and win the game in his half time teamtalk, but instead his team choked and again conceded five second half goals to Cristiano Ronaldo (2), Wayne Rooney (2) and ex-striker Dimitar Berbatov, with the game finishing 5-2 to United.

Chelsea, vs Arsenal, October 1999
Fourth placed Chelsea hosted second placed Arsenal at Stamford Bridge in a highly charged match on 23rd October 1999, with local bragging rights and the Premiership title up for grabs. Arsene Wenger had started to mould the Gunners team into his own, an had signed Nigerian striker Nwankwo Kanu from Inter Milan in February 1999. In the match Chelsea took the lead through Norwegian striker Tore Andre Flo on 39 minutes and Dan Petrescu gave The Blues a 2-0 advantage on 51 minutes. The chant of “we want five” rang around The Bridge from a euphoric Chelsea support. In a wet and windy day, Kanu stepped up and got one back for Arsenal on 75 minutes, slotting home a miscued Marc Overmars shot, and the home side, and their fans, became slightly edgy. Kanu shocked the home faithful with seven minutes remaining as he drove home an Overmars cross, but the African striker still had more to come. In the last minute of the game, Kanu closed down a clearance and found himself close to the cornerflag, confronted by home keeper Ed de Goey, who had rushed out of his goal. The lanky striker avoided de Goey’s sliding tackle and converted from the tightest and most impossible angle to give the Gunners the match 3-2, with Chelsea in despair.
Real Madrid, 2003-2004 La Liga Season
In the 2003-04 La Liga season, Real Madrid had a star studded team full of world beaters, were champions from the previous season and followers at the Bernabeu had Ronaldo, Beckham, Figo, Roberto Carlos and Zidane to surely lead them to a second consecutive title. This looked very likely, as by the end of February Los Blancos were eight points ahead at the top of the standings and looking for the treble. However a four month choke by Carlos Quieroz’s side saw them lose the Copa del Rey final to Real Zaragoza, get kicked out of Europe at the hands of Monaco and lose their grip on the domestic title. A loss in El Classico and a 4-1 home defeat to Real Sociedad on the last day of the season saw Valenica lift the title, and the Galacticos finish fourth behind Barcelona and Deportivo La Coruna.

Newcastle United, 1995-96 Premier League Season
Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle side of 1995-96 were labelled ‘The Entertainers’, as the Toon amassed a quality side with the likes of Les Ferdinand and David Ginola in their ranks. Keegan’s men dispatched all in front of them and rushed into a 12 point lead at the top of the Premier League. The Geordies had finished second a couple of years earlier, but for the St James Park faithful this would be the season of glory. However Keegan’s men fell victim to a run of inconsistent form and perennial strong finishers Manchester United caught Newcastle up, and won the league from under their noses. Newcastle have fallen from grace since, and the choke of 1996 has significantly impacted upon the team’s fortunes.

The old cliches of ‘it’s not over til it’s over’ and ‘it’s a game of two halves’ spring to mind when reminiscing about some of the great footballing chokes, and it shows that a team must be mentally prepared as well as physically and tactically to succeed at the highest level.

Published – http://www.footballfancast.com/2011/06/football-blogs/footballs-great-chokers-part-one

The New Liverpool Hero Helping to Push the Club In the Right Direction

Liverpool’s much publicised demise from the top four has been partly accredited to Rafa Benitez’s decision to sell wantaway midfielder Xabi Alonso in the summer of 2009, a player The Reds have missed over the last couple of seasons, and who’s influence has yet to be replaced. However with the emergence of Raul Meireles this season, although the Portuguese midfield man is a different type of player to Alonso, Liverpool have a bit of extra drive, quality and bite in the centre of the park that will benefit their ambitions to make it back into Champions League qualification contention next season.

Xabi Alonso’s talents have been much praised both during his time at Anfield and since the realisation of his importance to Liverpool upon his departure, and this article does not need to go back over covered ground. Yes Alonso did much to facilitate Steven Gerrard with his precision passing and vision, which in turn allowed Fernando Torres to prosper, and Liverpool have lacked a good passer of the ball in defensive positions to supply their more attacking players since, with Lucas Leiva having Alonso’s boots to fill without success. However with the inclusion of Meireles in the Liverpool starting XI, their attacking style has somewhat changed.

The ex-Porto man offers a different threat to opponents than Alonso through his fearless attitude on the pitch and the box-to-box nature of his play. Meireles has adapted to the physical nature of English football well, and has a steel and combatitivness that has endeared him to the Kop, with the fans respecting and responding to the midfield man’s efforts and heart during ninety minutes. In buying foreign players there is always a risk that they will not match the physicality of their British opponents week to week, but Meireles has a good work ethic, is happy and eager to close his opposite number down and will put his foot into a tackle without being reckless. Add to this good positional play and a willingness to run from the first minute to the last; it is clear to see why Liverpool fans have taken him to their heart.

Meireles is not as good a passer of the ball as Xabi Alonso, few are. However the Portuguese has in part brought back the pass and move nature of the Liverpool midfield that dominated English football in boss Kenny Dalglish’s playing days, and Meireles is much more mobile than Alonso, winning possession, picking a pass (maybe not with the same vision as the Spaniard) and bursting forward looking for a return. This energy and enthusiasm is difficult to shackle if you are playing against it, and Meireles’s breaks forward will do much to create space for Steven Gerrard when he returns to fitness, and new strikers Suarez and Carroll will have better supply than Torres did pre-Meireles. With his willingness to get forward and box to box style of play, it is inevitable that Meireles will also contribute goals to the cause himself, and he has scored five goals in 25 league appearances this season, some of which have contributed to Liverpool’s revival under Dalglish.

With Dalglish now in charge and playing Meireles in the centre of the park rather than on the flank as Roy Hodgson did, the Portugal international is in prime position to take centre stage and be the lynchpin of a different attacking strategy for The Reds. He won’t bring back the 60 yard precision passes the Kop were used to when Xabi Alonso wore the red of Liverpool, but he will offer a never say die attitude and a short and dynamic passing game that opponents in the Premier League, and perhaps the Champions League in seasons to come, will struggle to live with.

Published – http://www.caughtoffside.com/2011/03/14/the-new-liverpool-hero-helping-to-push-the-club-in-the-right-direction/

%d bloggers like this: