With the race for Champions League places at its tightest in history, James Dutton takes a closer look…
Another chastening week for English football in the Champions League and Europa League. Much like many knock-out round evenings in the last five years, a lack of quality, adaptability and in-game intelligence, a naivety that has once again exposed the flaws of the best sides in the rough-and-tumble Barclay’s Premier League on the European stage. All the money, facilities and resources but barely a hint of nous between them; English teams obsess over qualifying for the continental competitions yet have little idea what to do when they get there.
Qualification for the Champions League is that pot of gold at the end of a 38-game-long rainbow; as equally exalted as silverware now is the opportunity to be knocked out by a side from a second-rate European league in the knock-out stage. Priorities may be skewed but when the financial reward for a top four finish is so grandiose it becomes, as Tim Sherwood would say, a no-brainer.
As money has proliferated in the Premier League so the Race for the Champions League™ has become ever increasingly hard-fought. This is where it has been heading since Jesper Gronkjaer sank Liverpool in 2003 and scored the biggest goal in the history of Chelsea Football Club. TV deals have increased manifold since, and with that prize money and the desperation to gatecrash the party. Continue reading
Josh Dishman looks at Liverpool’s second half of the season revival, and the impact of a young squad…
“You can’t win anything with kids” goes the much-maligned and oft-repeated Alan Hansen missive that preceded Manchester United’s league and cup double in 1996. And whilst it is common knowledge that Brendan Rodgers has yet to win a trophy as a senior manager, his youth policy at Liverpool is threatening to make a mockery of Hansen’s theory once more.
The recent promotion of 19 year-old winger Jordon Ibe to the starting XI has attracted a blaze of publicity, yet youth courses throughout Rodgers’ side. The average age of the starting XI that defeated top four rivals Southampton last weekend was 23.4 years, and Liverpool’s title chase last season was executed by a team with an average age of just 23.22 years – the youngest side in the Premier League.
And whilst Rodgers and Liverpool could find themselves trophy-less again in May, the future does indeed augur well for the Redmen. Established key players Jordan Henderson, Philippe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge are all 25 or under (as is Mr. Balotelli), and have blossomed under the extra responsibility heaped on them after the departure of a certain Uruguayan star (no, not Sebastian Coates). Continue reading
Ally Moncrieff looks at the importance of rivalries and knowing your enemies in the world of football…
You don’t need much to get a game of football started, a few willing participants, an open area and an object resembling a ball means you can partake in something that could be broadly recognised as the same sport played by Messi, Ronaldo et al. Its glorious simplicity is one of the things that makes football the greatest game in the world. Obviously once you start adding nets, kits, officials and so on that kickabout in the park becomes ever more like the real thing.
One thing is always going to be missing though, one little factor that takes football from great sport to great spectacle and that’s an enemy. Football without an enemy is just another hobby, another distraction from the mundanity of life. It needs the tribal ferocity that only true enemies can produce to elevate it to something grander, something more important.
All teams have a rival, a side they’d prefer to beat above all others irrespective of how it affects league position or cup progress. Not all though have an enemy. Continue reading
Joe Devine returns to look at 5 things that may or may not have happened over the recent Premier League game week…
1. Liverpool Regain Identity
In the midsts of the celebrations after Liverpool’s jubilant 0-2 win over Aston Villa on Saturday, Brendan Rogers revealed that the club have finally “regained” their identity”. Liverpool fans will be pleased to hear that control of the club has returned to the right hands, though some might be confused as to why they knew nothing of the fraud in the first place. Few details have been revealed as to who may have stolen the Merseyside club’s identity, though early reports are suggesting that North Korea might be involved. Life-long Steven Gerrard fan Kim Jong-Un was rumoured to have offered the Liverpool captain a lucrative offer to coach Pyongyang F.C. The offer was declined and some tabloid journalists have speculated that the recent identity theft might be an act of furious revenge. The broadsheets pooh-pooh this theory, however, and according to The Guardian “£117m worth of average players collected over the summer clearly suggests that this identity theft might well have been going on for longer than most initially imagined”.
2. Wenger Disgusted With Lack of Possession
Despite leaving the Etihad on Sunday with 3 points after their 0-2 victory over Champions Manchester City, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger privately bemoaned his players’ lack of possession and attacking flair. In a dressing room speech in which the Frenchman told his players he’d rather “be a dead donkey than kick a dead donkey”, Arsene Wenger allegedly beat Santi Carzorla furiously around the back of the head before storming out chanting Kant’s Principles of Aesthetic Excellence. The False Nine newsroom is reliably informed that “heads will roll” should Arsenal defy their aesthetic responsibilities in the name of winning ever again. Continue reading
Joe Devine’s weekly look at the Premier League weekend that was returns once again…
1. Liverpool turn another corner
Yes, Liverpool have once more turned a corner in a bid to arrive at a destination of some kind, presumably. With more twists and turns than the labyrinth, Liverpool’s season hasn’t got off to the best start. But with their last minute goal against Arsenal, and another 1 point claimed at home, Brendan Rogers has continued in his trend of describing every Liverpool game as a “turning point”. Leading British betting sites now have Liverpool odds on to reach the Triwizard’s cup should they turn yet another corner (they will also have The False Nine up against the court for crimes against Jokesmithery if they allow another Harry Potter joke to be published on their football website. You definitely could’ve said a Minotaur).
2. Manchester United to get bail
Manchester United are set to continue their mega spending-spree in January by getting bail. Arrested for the inability to think of anything better than simple word play, Manchester United were publicly jailed earlier this month. Despite claims that a lowly, comically desperate writer could be the culprit, the club took the blame and will be paying £90m for bail before their hearing in May. Making a statement earlier this week, the club said “it’s hard when not much happens”. It is likely that this case will be escalated to a European court as of next year. Continue reading
Simon Smith looks at the growing examples of loaned-out players outperforming their parent clubs…
This Christmas I will have to contend with a shocking and unexpected horror when I visit my family for the annual yuletide celebrations. As an Arsenal fan, albeit one who always strives for objectivity in my writing, having a cohort of West Ham fans in the family has on occasion provided me with opportunity for many a laugh at their expense. The Hammers have had their revenge on occasion. They were the first team to win at the Emirates Stadium, and their often pragmatic underperformance in the Premier League is at least easier to deal with than the aneurism inducing heartache of disappointment all Gooners know all too well. But nonetheless I have usually been able to content myself with beating them most of the time and generally being the better club.
Barring a series of favourable results this weekend, I will have to arrive late on Christmas Eve knowing that my beloved Arsenal are lower than West Ham in the table. What’s more, they have done so playing largely eye catching and attractive attacking football, and by getting some of the best out of loan signings Carl Jenkinson and Alex Song.
Song has proved to be something of a coup: if his move to Barcelona seemed a little bizarre, a touch above his pay grade, then it should still be accepted that West Ham is a little below the level that the football community might have expected to drop down to. That shouldn’t be taken as any disrespect to West Ham, especially given their excellent form throughout the season so far, so much as an indication that his status as something of a joke figure in English football was misplaced. Continue reading
James Dutton looks at two lessons from Liverpool’s recent past for Mario Balotelli…
Mario Balotelli is at a crossroads. In fact, Mario Balotelli is always at a crossroads.
Every decision he makes, however crucial or anodyne, is analysed for its far-reaching consequences and wider meaning by somebody somewhere. Every pass, every run, every shot, every turn is scrutinised and pored over in minute detail like every dismissal suffered by Kevin Pietersen. The record-breaking batsman once famously said, “It’s tough being me in this dressing room”, and you imagine the Italian knows where he’s coming from.
This scrutiny reached new peaks at the weekend when he was patronised by commentators for working the channels and tracking back; like a schoolchild receiving a gold star for a sympathetically deficient piece of homework.
In reality it was a seven out of 10 performance for a footballer fully capable of nine and tens, but who has mostly hovered around the fours and fives since his £16m to Liverpool from AC Milan.
For Liverpool to be stuck in this position with a misfiring multi-million pound striker is nothing new. Andy Carroll will always pop into mind when the term “expensive flop” is bandied around Anfield, but for now Balotelli is neither of those things; £16m is not a lot of money in football anymore, and there is still time for him to rectify his career on Merseyside.
The two strikers of recent Anfield past whose difficult starts run most in parallel with Balotelli’s own are in fact Peter Crouch and Robbie Keane. Continue reading