Tag Archives: anfield

Best of the Prem: Everton to Man U

Fergie has something stuck to the roof of his mouth. It might be crow…

Part Two features players from both sides of Merseyside, along with the two big sides from Manchester.  Part of what made this season so great is that these big clubs — along with the North London clubs, Arsenal and Tottenham — finished right next to their derby rivals in the table. Greatest Premier League season, indeed.

Baines and Jelavic: Goodison’s best

EVERTON
Leighton Baines (ENG) – If that season began on January 31st, then Nikica Jelavic would have been the obvious choice, scoring 13 goals since his arrival, while the Toffees went 10-6-3 in all competitions.  But the season is of course long and arduous.  Typical Everton then, who were awful in the first half of the campaign… except for Leighton Baines.  The first name on David Moyes’ team sheet, Baines is everything a manager wants in a full-back.  He can race up the wing but still served as a member of one of the league’s stingiest defences.  The Scouser is also a superb deliverer of crosses and is a set-piece specialist.  If he can stand a month in the Ukraine, then he may actually get onto the pitch under Roy Hodgson.

Dempsey OK for USA

FULHAM
Clint Dempsey (USA) – Who else could it have been? The Yank has been a revelation since the 2010 World Cup, leading the Cottagers in scoring over the last two seasons by a country mile.   This year, Dempsey set the single-season record for Premier League goals in a Fulham shirt.  He has taken over from Landon Donovan as the global face of American soccer, and Jurgen Klinsmann will need Dempsey firing on all cylinders as Team USA begins its World Cup-qualifying campaign.  Another player who is so good that he may be wearing different club colours, come August.

LIVERPOOL
Jose Enrique (ESP) – To be honest, the Spanish fullback is the best of a bad lot.  While King Kenny forked out millions for Andy Carroll, the “other” former Newcastle player was the shining light on an underachieving Anfield side.  It is telling that Enrique’s decline coincided with a reversal in Liverpool’s fortunes after the Christmas break.  In fairness, he has brought some consistency to a position that seems to have been a black hole for the Merseyside club.  As well, he was ever-present in the squad sheet and the Liverpool defence still managed to be one of the league’s best.

Silva has lots to cheer about this season.

MANCHESTER CITY
David Silva (ESP) – On a team deep with expensive talent, this £30m man has proved to be worth every penny.  The league’s ultimate winger, speedy Silva led the league in assists.  Kompany may hoist the trophies, and Aguero/Tevez/Balotelli may find the back of the net, but Silva might be the best playmaker in the league.  A Spanish midfield of Xavi and Iniesta in the middle, with Silva and Mata on the wings, is a formidable thing indeed.

MANCHESTER UNITED
Wayne Rooney (ENG) – Quite possibly the most frustrating man to ever put on an England jersey (apologies to Paul Gascoigne).   The man (still only 26 years old) seems to have an infinite supply of talent.  After a season-long post-World Cup hangover, Rooney rebounded in 2011/2012 with an astonishing 34 goals in 42 games for United.  That includes 27 in the EPL, where he pushed Van Persie for the scoring title right until the end.  In fact, it’s hard to believe he has yet to win the Premier League’s Golden Boot.  How frustrating then, for both the players and the fans, that he must sit out what will surely be two critical games for England this summer.

Brent Lanthier

Coming Up: Newcastle United to Sunderland

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by | May 16, 2012 · 9:07 pm

Liverpool on the Edge

Kenny welcomes back his prodigal hijo..

Two-thirds into the season, the jury is still out on Liverpool. Has the storied club moved one step closer to its former exalted position? Or does Kenny Dalglish have his team running to stand still while other clubs leapfrog over the fallen giants?

One of the clubs on the rise is Tottenham Hotspur.  “Wheeler-Dealer” ‘Arry Redknapp has built a team that sits in third place, and — along with Manchester City — has displaced long-time Top 4 residents Chelsea and Arsenal.   It is hard not to see them in the group stages of the Champions League come September, but there are no guarantees.  Meanwhile, five points separate four teams for the last CL spot.  So today’s game at Anfield may be rich with meaning and consequence for both sides.

But where are the Reds exactly? They have reached one cup final, and have bested a mighty rival to progress in another.  The club has stated that its goal is Champions League football… but they have to go through the aforementioned Chelsea and Arsenal, as well as fight off the football renaissance going on in the country’s Northeast.  Newcastle were supposed to collapse after the £35 million sale of Andy Carroll to the Reds, and the defection of Kevin Nolan to play for his old boss, Sam Allardyce.  But in a case of addition through subtraction (and the smart pickup of Demba Ba), the Magpies are keeping pace.  Meanwhile, Martin O’Neill is weaving that Ol’ Black Magic with the Black Cats: Sunderland are 8-2-3 under the Irishman.

In hope of making sense of  Liverpool’s season, let’s look at the numbers.

– Liverpool have six more points than this time last year.  But in comparable games played, they are -1.  In other words, when you take all the matches they’ve played this year and compared them to the games from last year against the same teams, they are behind.

– The Reds’ record against Top 10 teams is trending to be about the same (just better than 50%), but they have improved against the lower half.

– Their away record has improved significantly, while their home record is worse.  Liverpool have yet to lose at Anfield this year, but they have frustrated fans by drawing a league-leading seven times at home.

– Liverpool’s goal difference is +7 compared to 0 at this time last year.  But they have scored three fewer goals.  A year ago the ranked fifth in offence, sixth in defence.  This year, they are one of the stingiest sides in the Prem, but are 12th in goals scored.  Fulham, Villa and Blackburn have all scored more than the Reds.

And therein lies the problem.   After spending over £100m on players like Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and Luis Suarez, the offence has gone backwards.  Carroll and Henderson are young players wilting under the pressure and excessive price tags. Charlie Adam seems to have been a big fish in Blackpool’s small pond.  And Suarez has been dubious in both play and disposition, letting shots go errant while embroiling himself in several controversies.

However, there appear to be several lights in the fog.  A player who is no stranger to discipline problems himself, Craig Bellamy seems to have been settled down by Dalglish, his boyhood idol. He now leads the team in scoring… not bad for a player who’s started half the games on the bench.  Jose Enrique — another wantaway from St. James’ Park — has admirably filled the long-time void at left back, and may be the team’s Player of the Year.

Is it enough?  Spurs have amassed a midfield and defence that are as good as any in the league, and snapping up Brad Friedel in the supposed twilight of his career looks like a stroke of genius.  But Liverpool have yet to lose at Anfield this season.  The talismanic Steven Gerrard will be in the line-up, and Suarez returns after his long stay in the corner, hopefully with something to prove.

If they win the Carling Cup (likely), win the FA Cup (maybe) but don’t reach the Champions League, will this have been a successful season? Or will Kenny have to take a long, hard look in the mirror and decide whether he’s the man to lead his team back to the promised land?  Tonight’s game may go a long way to answering those questions.

My prediction: 2-2.

Brent Lanthier

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Carroll: Bad Bargain, Good Buy

The Geordie and the General

Alright, now that the dust has settled — and the incredulity has been reduced to simple head-shaking — let’s get this out of the way: Andy Carroll is not worth £35 million right now.  He’s 22 years old, he has only ever scored 34 goals at the senior level, and is carrying a thigh injury.  He has one England cap.  One.  And he has already been in the papers several times for the wrong reasons.

That doesn’t make him a bad buy.

The long-and-short of it was that Liverpool’s situation was dire.  Last year’s mediocre campaign became the millstone for this year’s disaster.  The Reds are down 10 points from this time last year, a season that saw Liverpool plummet 23 points from their almost-title winning finish in 2009. (This is the point where you can hear the collective snorts from the crimson side of Manchester).  It’s because they couldn’t score. For all intents and purposes, Liverpool had no strikers.

Over the last 10 seasons, Liverpool averaged about 62 goals a season in the Prem. In the early part of the decade, a peaking Michael Owen shouldered much of the load. When he started to get hurt, Liverpool’s goal totals slumped and so did their form.  After he left for sunny Spain, other players managed to fill in the gaps, and Rafael Benitez’ stingy formations meant Liverpool were always contenders.

Then Fernando Torres arrived and the goals started to come again.  In the 2008-09 EPL season, Liverpool scored 77 goals… their highest total since they were winning the League. (In fact, they came two goals away from doing it that season. If Liverpool had scored a goal in two of their drawn games, they would have tied United on points, but pipped them to the title on superior goal difference).

Torres brought the goals — and so did mighty midfielder Steven Gerrard.  But the team began to rely too much on the pair.  An infuriating tinkerman early on, Benitez eventually built his formation around Torres and Gerrard, neglecting the development of other forwards.

Both players wanted to play all the time: Premier League, Champions League, cup ties.  The result was that Torres and Gerrard got hurt… a lot.  Combine that with the departure of defensive keystones Xavi Alonso and Javier Mascherano, and the team fell into shambles.

Fast forward to this month.  The team is trending to top out at 50 goals this season.  Top that with an atrocious goals-against and they are looking at a paltry +3 goal difference.  That would almost certainly rule them out of the lucrative Champions League again… and maybe even the Europa League.

Unhappy Torres

So when the transfer window was closing, an unhappy  Torres handed in his transfer request. He wanted to play in Europe. He wants to win titles (which he never did on Merseyside.  Not one piece of silverware.).  The team’s shiny new owners realized they had both an opportunity and a dilemma. Free-wheeling Chelski was willing to pay top dollar for the Spaniard… but that would have left the Reds without a paddle, in the popular parlance.  If Torres goes, there is no one.  The cupboard is bare.

Enter Newcastle United.  The perfidious Mike Ashley had to have known what Liverpool were doing with Torres. He is simply desperate for cash so he pounced, jacking up Carroll’s price.  The overlords of Anfield paid and made the young Geordie the most expensive British player ever.

He ain't pretty, he just looks that way...

The reality is it would have been foolish not to take him.  Liverpool are replacing Torres with England’s best striker this season. Who has more goals? Not Wayne Rooney, the man who was considered to be among the best in the world.  Not Peter Crouch or Jermaine Defoe or Emile Heskey.  In fact, no England player has found the back of the net this season as much as Carroll — and he hasn’t played since Christmas.

Carroll is not a pretty goal scorer.  He doesn’t have Rooney’s skill on the ball.  But he’s tall like Crouch, big and strong like Heskey and heads the ball like Tim Cahill… only he doesn’t have to jump.

Instead of Joey Barton or Kevin Nolan to feed him the ball, he now has Steven Gerrard, Dirk Kuyt, Maxi Rodriguez (don’t laugh, he’s come along this season!) and Luis Suarez.  That last one could be telling.  There are big hopes that Suarez and Carroll could be the new Owen and Heskey (except a Heskey that actually scores).

Finally — and this is important — he is only 22-years-old.  He will learn the game — and learn discipline — from Dalglish, one of the finest strikers to ever play the English game.

The club paid far, far too much for him.  I admit that, even with my red-tinted glasses on.  But Andy Carroll could end up being the finest money that Liverpool ever threw away.

Brent Lanthier

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Happy New Year! (Pass the Advil)

Sorry, Lenny…

I’d like to start a new calendar page with two announcements:

1) I still feel like arse after a night of debauchery at Late Night Lenny’s fine sporting establishment, Rails and Ales.

2) At The Rails will be new and improved! By that I mean, we will actually try to post every day. I know, we dare to dream big…

We admit we’ve been lazy.  And I have to admit that yours truly was too, uh, tired to watch any of today’s Premier League games. Actually I caught a bit of the Birmingham – Arsenal game… but I seemed to have missed all the exciting bits.

Speaking of bits (and bobs), here’s what happened in the football world today:

White Hart Becks?

– David Beckham is set to join Tottenham Hotspur but needs permission from the L.A. Galaxy.  It’ll be interesting to see who gets bumped out of an impressive Spurs midfield.  Rafael Van der Vaart? Pffft…. what’s that guy done lately?

– Woy Hodgson insists that he has the backing of Liverpool’s owners and players.   His comments come one day after he apologized to Liverpool fans, saying he hasn’t experienced any of the “famous Anfield support”.    Sing when you’re winning, Roy: you’re not in the posh end of London anymore.

– Diego Maradona’s grandson is not even two years old but he already can kick the ball better than Wayne Rooney… although he made have had a little help, chemically-speaking.  That’s not baby powder!

– At The Rails did not make the Guardian’s “100 Football Blogs to follow in 2011“.  Looks like someone is going to get a tersely-worded e-mail… and perhaps a bag of Mick McCarthy’s “special” brand of caramel.

– Spanish football will go ahead this weekend, despite efforts by the players’ union to suspend the games. It seems that Spanish footballers wanted Sunday off.  Where’s my burrito! Where’s my burrito!!

– I came across this photo of Don Fabio as I researched this article.  It’s enough to make me drink through my hangover (shudder)…

Here’s to a great 2011!

Brent Lanthier

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An Open Letter to Roy Hodgson

Woy rues the "walk on through the rain" bit of the song...

Dear Roy Hodgson,

Welcome to Anfield!  Sorry about the mess… hope it’s not a problem…

It’s only been two months but we noticed you’re already getting a bit snippy with the press. Perhaps your optimism has been dampened by the malaise of your players… and the fans… and the members of the board who don’t own team.

To be fair, Woy, it’s not been a good week for you. In seven days, you’ve lost to hated rivals Manchester United, and then to much-feared Northampton Town.  To top it off — on LFC’s first Saturday game of the season — the Reds put in such a lacklustre performance against Sunderland that the Kop went into a venti lather, extra-whipped, extra-foamy.

It hasn’t been a great start to the entire season either. Facing Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United in the first five Prem games can give any manager a bit of the “frownies”.  One has to wonder if bad results at the start of the season might send the team into a downward cycle of depression and self-loathing — just as Chelsea’s ridiculously easy start may have gone to their heads.  Perhaps you could have Kenny Daglish step in to give the boys a bit of a pep talk, eh?

You’ve also said you’re a bit concerned about the ownership situation.  Maybe you’ve realized that no one’s even come close to  Tom Hicks’ minimum bid for the team on eBay.  Or you could be miffed that he recently tried to pawn the players, stadium and team assets off just to pay the rent… because he’ll earn it back. You just have to trust him.

Conversely, you may be worried that Hicks and Gillet won’t make their debt deadline… meaning the Royal Bank of Scotland would own the team. Are you worried that the league would consider that a financial no-no and deducts points? Or are you worried that the club would be run by actual Scottish people? Hey, there’s King Kenny again, waving from his office… and he’s waiting for your call!

We can see how you’d be upset about losing points to administration. Let’s see: 6 minus 9… carry the “1”… a bit of a steep hill, no? If you listen closely, you can hear Wigan and West Ham fans laughing…

Look on the bright side: you are the manager of Liverpool FC, England’s most successful team! But now you’re miffed that the same media outlets that squeezed your cheeks and patted your bum — after you took little Fulham to the finals of that little tournament — are now reminding you that Liverpool has had its worst start in 57 years.  And they won’t stop.

But not to worry! You’ve got Steven Gerrard (when he’s not hurt), Fernando Torres (when he’s not hurt… or close to tears) and Joe Cole (when he’s not suspended… or hurt… or both). Just ask Stevie… this year, this is the year. He promises.

So turn that frown upside-down, and remember: it’s only three more months to go until the next transfer window. What could possibly go wrong between now and then?

Sincerely,
At The Rails

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Liverpool’s Summer of Love

Three months ago, I wrote that Liverpool faced a bleak off-season. Arrogant owners had plunged the club into obscene levels of debt, while bragging how they would reap record profits from its sale. The team finished a dismal seventh, ending another season where the trophy case remained dusty and unopened.  And Liverpool’s major stars — Gerrard, Torres and Mascherano — all appeared headed for the door.

Oh, what a difference three months has made.  Instead of panic, there has been a steely determination to weather the storm.  Roy Hodgson — a candidate by default, some would say — was hired to manage the team, if only for a little while. But instead of being a lame-duck leader, Hodgson started manning the phones.  He convinced Joe Cole to leave the safe confines of London… and then everything seemed to fall into place.

The commitment of Steven Gerrard to the club was an important step. Never mind the cynics who said he was unwanted abroad. The pledge showed that Liverpool’s captain — and heart and soul — believes there is a future on Merseyside.  But there was still a problem of finances.

Enter Kenny Huang.  It seems the Chinese businessman doesn’t see a club in turmoil, he sees a massive opportunity. Huang remembers that Liverpool is still the most successful English club in history… indeed, one of the most successful in the world.  He saw the survey that shows Fernando Torres shirts sold more units worldwide than any other Premier League player.  He knows owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are mucking about… and thinks he can do something about it.

Huang is being aggressive. The billionaire claims that the club’s debt is so massive, it’s made shares virtually worthless. If he successfully buys that debt from the bank, it’s curtains for Hicks and Gillett.  Good riddance.

Torres has said all along that the club needs new investment, and implied that new owners would be required to get him to stay.  Today, he committed his future to the club… another tremendous psychological boost.  Huang has promised to bring in big players and start in on a new stadium — promises heard from the current owners that ended up ringing hollow. But the rapidly dwindling millions of Hicks and Gillett are drops in the bucket when compared to Huang’s billions.

They say money can’t buy happiness. I think the Anfield faithful beg to differ.

Brent Lanthier

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Liverpool FC Walk Through The Storm

“Once decline becomes precipitous, even money may not prevent the decline spiralling into permanency.”
 – David Bick, Square 1 Consulting
The consultant-speak belies how bad the situation is for Liverpool. The season has been nothing short of disasterous. In a campaign that started with a loss to Spurs — and basically ended with a dreadful performance at home against Chelsea — last year’s would-be champions fell from grace with alacrity.
The players simply weren’t good enough. With the exception of workhorse Dirk Kuyt, every squad member can shoulder part of the blame:
– Gerrard’s season was summed up in his “conspiracy” pass to Drogba,  
– Midfield bulldog Mascherano played with a heady mix of anger and stupidity, while his partner Lucas was a pale replacement for the sorely missed Xavi Alonso,
– Jamie Carragher showed signs of rapid decline,  while the man he was protecting — Pepe Reina — made simple saves look tricky at the beginning of the season,
– Rieira and Babel — for all of their chirping — didn’t come close to earning their wages,
– Defensive backs  Johnston and Insua looked like strokes of brilliance by the manager, until injury felled both at inopportune times.
And nothing further needs to be written about the absence of Fernando Torres — who seems to be afraid of what the Premier League is doing to his body.
Regardless of individual performances, Rafael Benitez remains the lightning rod for the team’s troubles. Many will forever asterisk the Champions League win as a squad assembled by Gerard Houllier and dragged to victory by Stevie G. 
The doubters will point to Benitez’ endless tinkering in his first seasons and the revolving door on the training ground. Keane, Pennant, Voronin, Arbeloa, Bellamy, Crouch and countless others — all players who came and went. That’s not to mention the 20 million pound purchase of Alberto Aquilani — known in Italy as “The Crystal Kid”. But the punters are missing the pattern of waste and wandering ambitions that have guided the team for two decades.
Rafa inherited a team that was still revelling in its former glories: a club that could boast to being England’s all-time best, both at home and abroad. Like a fat, aging Lothario — LFC could count on its fans to point to past conquests. The faithful beat their chests as they sing the club’s famous theme, along with odes to Rome and Wembley and Paris and Istanbul.
But the fat and the decline were there for all to see. The Souness/Spice Boy years in the Nineties. The neglect of the youth system in favour of the latest fad player from abroad (Diouf/Diao/Diarra anyone?).  The self-righteous talk of the “Liverpool Way”, even as board members plotted against each other.
And then came the Americans.  George Gillett and Tom Hicks arrived in Merseyside promising a yellow brick road to the title, while secretly planning how to flip the club like a renovated townhouse. The problem was that neither counted on a U.S.-made global recession — or a slowly developing hatred for each other.
Now the club sits mire in unprecedented debt. Its plans to build a bigger stadium still sit on an architect’s table — and much-needed revenue from the expanded capacity sits unrealized. As Man U, Arsenal and Chelsea build their global brands — along with their counterparts in Spain and Italy — Liverpool has failed to adjust to the new reality. LFC  is still trying figure out what it is.
But time is running out. The Reds will not see Champions League football next season. Thanks to Gillett and Hicks, the team now owes 10 million pounds more in annual debt payments then it makes in operating profit. The manager realizes what this means for the transfer window and is likely to looking for greener (and warmer) pastures. So are key players like Gerrard and Torres and Mascherano, who all see the writing on the wall.
The decline has begun. The spiral is forming.  And time is ticking.
It’s time to be afraid of the dark.

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