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Jan 012014

Out with the old, in with the new!

Liverpool failed to earn any points in their final two matches of 2013, but did take the full three points on the first day of 2014. Without further ado, I have three observations after the completion of all three matches.

Observation #1: Liverpool aren’t good enough to win the title

At the start of December I said that the four December matches, three of which were on the road against teams in the top half of the table, would show us whether or not Liverpool are currently title contenders. They crushed Tottenham and Cardiff, but failed to take any points from their trips to Manchester City and Chelsea. The Reds deserved at least a point against City, but really never looked like they had a chance against Chelsea.

The good  news is that they continue to take care of business against lesser sides (including their 2-0 win over Hull on New Years Day) and they are still very much alive in the race for a Champions League spot. Not only that, but they will also face Arsenal, City, and Chelsea at home in the second half of the season.

You can’t lose against both City and Chelsea and hope to come out on top, but a Top 4 place is still a very achievable goal.

Observation #2: Defenders and midfielders are the priority in the January window

With Luis Suarez on fire, Philippe Coutinho getting better each game, and Daniel Sturridge due back soon there is little need for reinforcements up top. However, the matches against City and Chelsea revealed some serious flaws in the back line and the central midfield.

In the back, it seems as if either Martin Skrtel or Daniel Agger will need to be sold. I’m partial due to Agger. Skrtel has shown some lapses in judgment on set pieces and doesn’t really have the technical ability to play the way Brendan Rodgers wants to play. Agger is more confident on the ball and a little bit smarter when it comes to man marking. Since we haven’t seen much of Tiago Illori this season, it would seem a new purchase is in order. I don’t have too many ideas at the moment, but a quality center back would be a huge help going forward.

In the midfield, Steven Gerrard returns but continues to look half a step too slow as he gets older. Lucas has done very well in his newfound “sweeper” role in between the back line and the rest of the midfield. I’m growing less and less confident about Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson. The former hasn’t shown as much this season as the latter, but I’m starting to think that neither is fit to help this team contend for a title going forward. Allen doesn’t seem to have the technical ability to link up with the likes of Suarez and Coutinho. Henderson works his tail off, but he also seems to make the bad pass or fail to convert a good scoring opportunity at the worst possible time. It felt like the games against City and Chelsea were too big for him and although he continues to improve this season, you have to wonder if he’ll ever get the confidence needed to raise his game in high stakes matches.

I’m not so sure US international Michael Bradley wouldn’t be a good fit. Yes, I’m biased but I’ve also seen him play quite a bit and he has the intelligence and confidence to help stop opposing teams before they can even get to Lucas. He’s also an underrated deep lying playmaker. A midfield trio of Lucas, Bradley, and Gerrard going forward would commit very few bad passes that give up possession in a bad place.

Observation #3: Simon Mignolet isn’t an upgrade over Pepe Reina

This seems a bit obvious (and a bit harsh) after he gave up two soft goals to Alvaro Negredo and Samuel Eto’o, but if a title is the ultimate goal, you cannot have a keeper who is going to give up such goals. Nobody seems to truly appreciate good goalkeeping, but if Liverpool are going to contend for a title in the next few years, Mignolet will need to stamp out any such goals altogether.

I’m not sure a new purchase in the January window is necessary, but the position is worth keeping an eye on going forward.

Dec 082013

At long last we have our field of 32 set!

The 2014 FIFA World Cup draw has finally been announced and we know the fate of our favorite (and least favorite) nations. The tournament won’t start until June, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take an early look at all eight groups and some of the story lines presented by each one. Let’s get started!

Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon

Biggest Question: Who will finish 2nd?

Must See Match: Brazil-Mexico

Best Player: Neymar (Brazil)

Most Likely To Land A Big Summer Transfer: Dejan Lovren (Croatia)

Predicted Finish: 1) Brazil 2) Mexico 3) Croatia 4) Cameroon

It’s a fairly easy draw for the hosts, but there’s legitimate confusion over who could take second. Croatia probably has the most individual talent, but they didn’t look convincing in qualifying and outside of their 1998 semifinal run they haven’t had much success since gaining their independence. Mexico also looked weak in qualifying, but they’ve got Brazil’s number at the moment having defeated them twice in 2012; once in a friendly and once at the gold medal match of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. Cameroon have qualified more than any other African nation, but they fail impress when they get to the final and star striker Samuel Eto’o is a shell of his former self.

Look for Mexico to finish second and keep an eye on Croatia center back Dejan Lovren who has impressed with England’s Southampton so far this season.

Group B: Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia

Biggest Question: Who fails to advance?

Must See Match: Spain-Chile

Best Player: Alexis Sanchez (Chile)

Most Likely To Land A Big Summer Transfer: Matthew Leckie (Australia)

Predicted Finish: 1) Spain 2) Netherlands 3) Chile 4) Australia

This is about as close as it gets to a true “Group Of Death”. We open with a re-match of the 2010 final while Chile, led by Barcelona star Alexis Sanchez, will challenge for second place and the Aussies will be a difficult matchup for the favorites. The Dutch breezed through qualifying and are still a bit of an unknown quantity because of it. Spain and Chile finished 2-2 in a recent friendly and should provide another thrilling match when they meet again in June.

Spain are advancing out of this group, it’s simply a question of who will join them. I like the Netherlands to beat Chile in what will prove to be the decisive match in this group and advance with the defending champions. This would give us Spain-Mexico and Brazil-Netherlands in the Round of 16 and that’s an incredibly enticing prospect!

Group C: Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan

Biggest Question: Who is the favorite?

Must See Match: Colombia-Greece

Best Player: Falcao (Colombia)

Most Likely To Land A Big Summer Transfer: Konstantinos Mitroglou (Greece)

Predicted Finish: 1) Colombia 2) Greece 3) Japan 4) Ivory Coast

This group is completely up for grabs. All four are capable of advancing and they all have very different playing styles. Colombia are led by strikers Radamel Falcao and Jackson Martinez. Greece have a rock solid defense and one of the hottest strikers in Konstantinos Mitroglou. Ivory Coast are led by veterans like the Toure Brothers (Kolo and Yaya) and Didier Drogba. Japan have a very technical side that values possession and features creative playmakers Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa.

Ultimately I think Colombia are the only team good enough to score on Greece (thanks mostly to Falcao’s ability) and the winner of that game could wind up deciding who wins and who comes in second. If you’re high on tactical variety this is your group.

Group D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy

Biggest Question: Which Mario Balotelli Shows Up?

Must See Match: Uruguay-England

Best Player: Luis Suarez (Uruguay)

Most Likely To Land A Big Summer Transfer: Nicolas Lodeiro (Uruguay)

Predicted Finish: 1) Uruguay 2) England 3) Italy 4) Costa Rica

If you ask me, this is the best group from top to bottom. Costa Rica came in second in CONCACAF qualifying and feature a handful of players playing in Europe while the other three members of this group are very much known quantities. The key to this group is how Mario Balotelli plays. If he performs like he did at the Confederations Cup, Italy can win this group. If he loses his cool and can’t score, Italy will have a tough time advancing past England and Uruguay. All eyes in England will be fixed upon their match against Uruguay and their polarizing striker Luis Suarez. Keep an eye on Uruguay central midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro who, somehow, still hasn’t made a big money move to Europe and currently plays for Botafogo in Brazil.

The potential Round of 16 matchups would give us Luis Suarez against what is possibly the best defense in the tournament as well as England and Colombia doing battle.

Group E: France, Ecuador, Honduras, Switzerland

Biggest Question: How Good Is Switzerland?

Must See Match: France-Switzerland

Best Player: Franck Ribery (France)

Most Likely To Land A Big Summer Transfer: Granit Xhaka (Switzerland)

Predicted Finish: 1) Switzerland 2) France 3) Ecuador 4) Honduras

I’m sure I’m in the minority on this, but I think Switzerland are pretty darn good. They’ve got a great mix of veterans (Juventus’s Stephan Lichsteiner, Fulham’s Philippe Senderos) and youth (Borussia M’Gladbach’s Granit Xhaka, Bayern Munich’s Xherdan Shaqiri) and I think they’ll shock us all by winning this group; assuming they get the necessary result when they face France. France are easily the most talented team, but they’re national team fortunes have been on a steady downturn ever since the 2006 Final when they lost to Italy. I’m not sure they’ve put it together enough to win this group.

Group F: Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria

Biggest Question: Will Lionel Messi finally shine at the World Cup?

Must See Match: Iran-Nigeria

Best Player: Lionel Messi (Argentina)

Most Likely To Land A Big Summer Transfer: Uche Nwofor (Nigeria)

Predicted Finish: 1) Argentina 2) Bosnia-Herzegovina 3) Nigeria 4) Iran

Will all due respect to those involved, this is the the worst group in the tournament. Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina should advance comfortably. Nigeria and Iran help open this group and I’ve highlighted it only because Iran have qualified before back in 2002 and should manage to shock Nigeria and steal three points it could make this group a bit more interesting.

The real story line from this group isn’t about the group itself as much as the tournament. We’re all waiting for Lionel Messi to have his World Cup “moment” and this draw gives him a great opportunity to do so. If predictions hold, we get a tantalizing France-Argentina showdown in the Round of 16.

Group G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, United States

Biggest Question: How Good Is Portugal?

Must See Match: Portugal-United States

Best Player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

Most Likely To Land A Big Summer Transfer: Aron Johannsson (United States)

Predicted Finish: 1) Germany 2) United States 3) Portugal 4) Ghana

Another “Group Of Death” that is stacked from top to bottom. Germany should have no issues winning this group, but who comes in second is still up for grabs. The US got the best of Portugal in 2002 and will look to do so again this time around. They need to get a win in their first game against Ghana and that’s entirely possible given they’ll want revenge after the Black Stars knocked them out of the Round of 16 in South Africa. Much like Italy, Portugal are dependent upon their one proven star: Cristiano Ronaldo.

If anything happens to him between now and June (and for some reason I have a sneaky suspicion it will) they will be left with a lot more questions than answers.

Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea

Biggest Question: How far can Belgium go?

Must See Match: Russia-South Korea

Best Player: Vincent Kompany (Belgium)

Most Likely To Land A Big Summer Transfer: Faouzi Ghoulam (Algeria)

Predicted Finish: 1) Belgium 2) Russia 3) South Korea 4) Algeria

Belgium should win this group, but everyone wants to know how far they can go in the knockout rounds. The battle for second between Russia and South Korea should be a lot of fun to watch and Algeria has done a good job producing players via France. If my predictions hold we’ll get some great Round of 16 matchups between USA/Belgium and Germany/Russia.


Can Liverpool Still Win The Title?

 Posted by on December 8, 2013 at 12:00 pm  Blogs/Media, England, EPL, Liverpool
Dec 082013

My goodness, it’s been awhile since I wrote anything about Liverpool!

What a wild ride November was! We saw a sound 2-0 defeat at the hands of the table toppers from London, maybe the best Merseyside Derby match ever, a 3-1 loss to Hull City, and some convincing wins against the worst the EPL has to offer in between all of that. Luis Suarez continues to amaze us, Daniel Sturridge won’t be back any time soon, Glen Johnson IS back, Jon Flanagan is growing up before our eyes, and the center of the midfield could use a bit of a tune up.

Despite the losses to Arsenal and Hull City last month, Liverpool still find themselves tied for second with Chelsea while Manchester City, Everton, and Tottenham lurk close behind. As I write this Arsenal are squaring off against Everton, but even if the Gunners should lose the Reds would still be five points away from the top spot. That seems like a manageable deficit. But when you look at the upcoming schedule you’ll find that three of the next four are away to Spurs, Chelsea, and Manchester City with a visit from Cardiff City in between. Obviously 12 points from that stretch would go a long way towards keeping Liverpool in the title picture, but that’s a bit of a tough ask given how soundly Arsenal won and how much the whole team struggled against Hull.

If Liverpool are going to navigate these treacherous couple weeks before the January transfer window opens, they’ll need to address some issues.

Who Will Help Luis Suarez Score The Goals?

I’m the not world’s biggest Daniel Sturridge fan, but there can be no denying his has been in excellent form all season and his loss over the next month or so is a huge blow. In the West Ham game we saw Raheem Sterling put himself in position to score several times and fail to do so. He’s still only a teenager, but his performances over the last couple games haven’t exactly been encouraging. Victor Moses finds himself on the outside of the Starting XI looking in at the moment and Coutinho is much more of a playmaker than a goal scoring threat. Brendan Rodgers will likely look to the January window for help, but it could be too late by then. For now Liverpool will have to hope guys like Sterling and Moses can find some bit of form until then.

What Should Back 4 Look Like?

Coming into the season the back line consisted of Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel, and Jose Enrique. Brendan Rodgers added Frenchman Mamadou Sakho and Ivorian Kolo Toure for depth and has recently turned to youngster Jon Flanagan at the left back position. In my eyes, Sakho has revealed himself to be the best defender on this team, but it’s unclear who should be starting alongside him. Agger, Toure, and Skrtel have all missed a game here and there with fitness issues and summer signing Tiago Illori doesn’t appear to be in Rodgers’ immediate plans. Flanagan has held his own recently, but his first surprise start in that pivotal loss to Arsenal revealed he may not be entirely prepared for the big stage. For now, I think the best combination is Johnson, Sakho, Agger, and Flanagan but it may be time to look for a different answer at left back.

Can The Central Midfielders Hold Up Over The Next Few Weeks?

To say Liverpool haven’t gotten anything out of their midfield this season is a bit of an understatement. Central midfield (or rather “the midfield” given Rodgers’ return to the 4-3-3) has been far and away the weakest part of this team. Arsenal ran roughshod over them in November and Spurs/Chelsea/City have midfielders more than capable of doing the same. Steven Gerrard continues to look like he’s losing a step, Lucas has been uncharacteristically inconsistent, Jordan Henderson can’t seem to take the next step, and Joe Allen is only just now getting consistent playing time. This may be the biggest need come January, but, again, it may be too late by then. If Liverpool are going to get points at White Hart Lane, Stamford Bridge, and the Etihad Stadium, they’re going to need some inspirational performances from each of those individuals.

So Who’s The Best XI For The Grueling December Fixtures?

It’s going to take something special for Liverpool to escape this “road trip” over the next few weeks with enough points to remain in contention for the title. When I look up and down the roster I see a lot of youth and inexperience and it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Aside from Coutinho, I’m not sure how many of the youngsters are prepared for the magnitude of these next few games. But Rodgers has to trot 11 guys out there, so let’s take a shot at it.



Johnson – Agger – Sakho – Flanagan

Henderson – Lucas – Gerrard

Coutinho – Suarez – Moses

I’m not wild about deploying Coutinho as a winger. If Daniel Sturridge is healthy, I’d rather have him in between Suarez and Moses up top with Coutinho as a “trequartista” in between them and a two man defensive midfield pairing of Lucas and Gerrard. But that’s not the case and I don’t think Sterling should be starting even if he is more of a true winger. I like the idea of Johnson getting forward to link up with Coutinho with Henderson in support while Flanagan and Moses can feel confident being on the same side of the field as Gerrard.

It’s clear this team needs help come January, but their title hopes may already be decided by then. There are a couple silver linings though. Spurs look very uninspiring of late. Chelsea aren’t quite what they used to be and can’t seem to find a consistent goal scorer up top. The most daunting game is the trip to Manchester where Manuel Pellegrini’s side have been utterly unstoppable. But they’ve struggled mightily on the road so there’s opportunities for them to slip up between now and then. If Liverpool can take nine points from Spurs, Cardiff, and Chelsea then perhaps the Manchester game won’t be as crucial.

The loss to Arsenal was huge, but the rest of December still presents a number of golden opportunities for Liverpool to get back into the title race. We’ll find out very quickly whether or not this current roster has what it takes.

“Walk on with hope in your heart and you’ll never walk alone!”

Nov 202013

I love the internet. Thanks to the internet we can simulate the group draw for the 2014 FIFA World Cup because some kind soul took the time to create such a simulator.

And now that the field of 32 is set after Uruguay tied Jordan 0-0 in the second leg of their playoff, we can starting to look ahead to some potentially mouth watering groups. Let’s get to it!

Group Of Death (Host Edition)

Brazil, Japan, Ivory Coast, Netherlands

There will probably be two legitimate “Groups of Death”. Since Brazil is the host, they get one of the top seeds. Japan is the best team from Asia, Ivory Coast is the most talented team from Africa, and the Netherlands are the best team in Pot 4, which is comprised entirely of European teams who aren’t one of the Top 8 seeds. The last two were paired in a “Group of Death” in 2006 with Argentina and Serbia, but this group might just top that one. Japan is better than people give them credit for and the Ivory Coast is full of veteran stars like Didier Drogba who will likely be playing in their last World Cup and will want to go out on a high note.

Group Of Death (Non-Host Edition)

Spain, South Korea, Chile, Italy

This one doesn’t look like a traditional Group of Death on paper, but it’s stacked from top to bottom. Here we have a rematch of the 2012 Euro final as well as two of the world’s most underrated teams. South Korea is a very disciplined, cohesive unit and Chile feature some of the best players you may not have heard of; not to mention they might be the most entertaining team in this field. The last hurrah of Spain’s “golden generation” squaring off against Asia’s second best team, South America’s most thrilling, and the ever polarizing Mario Balotelli. Every match in this group is must see and all four have a legitimate chance to advance.

The Snoozer (Most Boring Group)

Switzerland, Iran, Algeria, Greece

Switzerland is the least exciting of the seeded teams in Pot 1, Iran and Algeria might be the two least talented teams in the entire field, and nobody plays with more of a bunker-mentality than the Greeks. Next!

The Track Meet (The Fastest Group)

Colombia, Mexico, Nigeria, Portugal

There’s no real way to quantify this, so I’m just going to view it as the most “athletic” group. These teams have some of the fastest players and have the potential to score the most goals in one group. Colombia features the likes of Falcao and Jackson Martinez. Mexico, despite their qualifying troubles, are a very technical side with some great wingers like Andres Guardado and Javier Aquino. Nigeria trots out Liverpool winger Victor Moses and MLS prospect Bright Dike. Portugal gives us the great Cristiano Ronaldo plus Manchester United winger Nani. Usain Bolt would be proud of this group.

Group Of Stars (USA Edition)

Argentina, USA, France, Portugal

Yes, there is a possibility we could see Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the same group. Throw in the other Ballon d’Or candidate (Franck Ribery) and you have plenty of star power to satisfy casual American fans. Of course, advancing out of such a group would be a daunting task for the Yanks. This group also has some lesser known stars like Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero and Juventus wonderkid Paul Pogba. This one’s also a Group of Death candidate and it’s all thanks to the individual brilliance that would be on display.

Study Your Colonial History (Most Political Rivalries)

Germany, Australia, Ghana, England

The rivalry between Germany and England obviously stems from World War II. Australia was a British colony until the early 20th century as was Ghana, although they didn’t manage to secure their independence until after World War II ended. Colonialism and political animosity abound in this group for history nerds.

The Dark Horses (Least Talked About Good Teams Group)

Uruguay, Costa Rica, Cameroon, Bosnia-Herzegovina

Uruguay may have “snuck in” via a playoff after finishing fifth in South America, but they still have a very talented roster that is capable of repeating their 2010 run to the semifinals. Luis Suarez might be the hottest striker on the planet, Edinson Cavani is a proven threat, and the midfield is anchored by 24 year old Nicolas Lodeiro, who (shockingly) plays his club ball in Brazil. Costa Rica finished second behind the US in CONCACAF and finished with a goal differential of +6; just one off from USA’s +7. Cameroon has made more World Cups than any other African nation and Bosnia-Herzegovina features the likes of Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko, Roma’s Miralem Pjanic, and Stuttgart’s Vedad Ibisevic. 

World War II Group

Germany, USA, Algeria, Russia

In a different take on the Colonial History group, we have the three biggest forces from World War II as well as the only North African squad.

The Pope’s Favorite Group

Spain, Mexico, Ecuador, Italy

The current pope is from Argentina, but Spain gets the nod from Pot 1 as the more traditional Catholic power. You won’t find more fans of the Holy Father and one of the oldest denominations of Christianity outside of this group.


Giving Thanks To Liverpool Football Club

 Posted by on November 12, 2013 at 9:17 pm  Blogs/Media, England, EPL, Liverpool
Nov 122013

For those of you from outside the US, we have a holiday at the November known as Thanksgiving. We get together with family and pretend to be grateful for all the good things in our lives right before stuffing over faces full of food. It is American Excess at its finest.

I participate every year, so I have no room to talk but I would in all honesty like to take a moment to count my blessings as a Liverpool fan. A quick look at the calendar and the EPL table will show that it is November 12, 2013 and Liverpool currently occupy second place. Reds fans can thank a number of people/things for this and I would like to do so in no particular order.

Glen Johnson

Fullback (Left/Right back) might be the most thankless position on a football field. Even in the midst of a data-driven revolution in the sport, it is incredibly difficult to evaluate and quantify the value of a good left/right back. It would seem the only way to do so is to watch how a team plays with and without a particular fullback.

Two weeks ago we saw Jon Flanagan get a last minute start in place of an ill Glen Johnson. The youngster held his own against the best team in England so far this season. But there seemed to be something missing from the right back spot going forward. Liverpool had trouble maintaining possession in the attacking third. This past Saturday Johnson returned to the starting lineup (albeit against a lousy Fulham side) and showed us just how valuable he is. He was constantly stringing passes together with the forwards and the midfielders and helped Liverpool maintain their high backline. He did exactly what a fullback needs to do in Brendan Rodgers system: kept possession in the attacking third and delivered some effective crosses. Even if you look across the field at Aly Cissokho/Jose Enrique, you won’t find the same efficiency and reliability you get with a healthy, fit Glen Johnson.

Luis Suarez

This one is pretty obvious. There isn’t much to be said about the Uruguayan international that hasn’t already been said. He doesn’t just score at an incredibly efficient rate, he does it with a hint of the spectacular. For all the (legitimate) complaints about his tendency to go down easily in the penalty area, he actually tends to work tirelessly, chasing the ball around and making deadly runs in and out of the box. Keeping Suarez should be the team’s No.1 priority in January. We saw Suarez’s new strike partner Daniel Sturridge get visibly frustrated and force the issue way too often against Fulham because he was so concerned with getting a goal of his own. If Suarez leaves and Sturridge has to be relied upon even more for goals, things could go downhill in a hurry.

Lucas Leiva

Despite their success so far this season, Liverpool’s central midfield has been exposed. Steven Gerrard continues to get older and slower while Jordan Henderson works hard but fails to impact the game in big moments. The blond Brazilian has been the only line of defense between the back four and the midfield. Lucas’s work rate as a holding midfielder has helped Liverpool preserve a lot of wins this season and they’ll need more of the same from him in the second half of the season if they’re going to hold a Top 4 spot.

The Schedule Makers

Liverpool have only played three of the current top eight teams in the table and those games have been spread out very nicely. They need to continue to take advantage of their games against lesser competition because there is a 14 day stretch coming in December that will feature games against Tottenham, Manchester City, and Chelsea; all of three of which are away from home.

Sir Alex Ferguson

The recently retired Manchester United boss hasn’t had many nice things to say about Steven Gerrard lately, but his departure from Old Trafford has had a ripple effect across the Premier League. Teams (and referees) are no longer terrified of the Red Devils and as a result we have a wide open title race.


If Liverpool can’t win the whole thing, I’ll be pulling for Arsenal. They’ve been a ton of fun to watch this season and it’s nice to see someone not named Manchester or Chelsea running away with the league so easily.


Oct 202013

Despite a late push, Liverpool were incredibly fortunate to earn a 2-2 draw against Newcastle over the weekend. Even after Newcastle were reduced to ten men just before halftime, the Reds found themselves struggling to take advantage in the second half.

With Glen Johnson back in the starting lineup, this was supposed to be our first look at Liverpool’s truly “Best XI”. Lucas Leiva wound up missing the match due to the birth of his child and Jose Enrique was a late scratch. Still, Brendan Rodgers went to the 3-5-2 he has utilized for the last couple weeks while Johnson was injured. There were signs this wasn’t a great formation for this team in their 3-1 win over Crystal Palace two weeks ago, but Saturday’s draw really exposed the problems it presents.

I saw two big concerns in particular…

Problem 1: The Wing Backs

The biggest issue with this 3-5-2 formation is that it puts quite a bit of responsibility on the shoulders of the two wing backs. Against Newcastle this turned out to be Aly Cissokho and Glen Johnson. They both found themselves rushing to get forward to support the attack, only to be caught way out of position tracking back in defense. Ultimately the wing backs are responsible for being the only truly “wide” players in the formation and they have to cover the entire length of the field. Johnson and Cissokho didn’t look capable of doing so and neither Jose Enrique two weeks ago.

Their inability to get back also seemed to create some confusion among the three center backs as to who needed to be where and when. Yohan Cabaye’s first half goal was certainly a spectacular shot, but he had the space and time to shoot because Liverpool couldn’t figure out who needed to step into his path.

Part of it was obviously due to their man advantage, but Liverpool looked much more comfortable defensively after Luis Alberto replaced Mamadou Sakho in the second half and they went back to a traditional 4-man back line.

Problem 2: Central Midfield

Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson were constantly chasing Newcastle around in the first half, thanks in large part to the confusion created by the wing backs. Newcastle were able to easily keep possession because there was tons of space for them to switch the field. Part of the reason they had such space was because Gerrard and Henderson were getting sucked out wide to support Johnson and Cissokho.

Then there’s the issue with Victor Moses having to play a central midfielder between Gerrard/Henderson and the two man strike force of Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez. He was easily bottled up by Newcastle and saw his speed (his greatest asset) neutered by his new position. Liverpool were able to create more chances in the second half once he pushed out wide and had space to take his defender one on one or cut inside to play Sturridge/Suarez into the box.

Again, most of it was due to the advantage they had, but when Luis Alberto checked into the game for Sakho the team looked much more confident about their individual responsibilities. Assuming everyone is healthy, this is what the formation should probably look like…


Johnson – Agger – Sakho – Enrique


Henderson     –     Gerrard

Suarez     –     Sturridge     –     Moses

If you put Suarez out wide and Sturridge in the middle, you don’t have to rely upon Johnson and Enrique to support the attack as much. Suarez’s work rate is pretty high even when he has to defend and does some of his best work cutting in from the outside. The same holds true for Victor Moses on the other side of Sturridge.

There’s still time to sort the tactics out before the trip to the Emirates Stadium in two weeks. West Brom comes to Anfield next and they will present a good opportunity to sort out any issues. A win in that particular game is now sorely needed since Arsenal and Chelsea won handily over the weekend. Liverpool’s Top 4 chances are still good, but their hopes at competing for an actual title are dwindling and a loss at home to the Baggies would almost certainly spell doom.

Here’s hoping we see a return to the 4-3-3!

Which Wrestling Villain Is Luis Suarez?

 Posted by on October 8, 2013 at 8:10 pm  Blogs/Media, England, EPL, Liverpool
Oct 082013

International breaks suck. Especially when your favorite nation (USA!!! USA!!!) has already qualified and doesn’t really have a shot at playing for a seed.

I could continue to harp on how bad of an idea Liverpool’s new three center back system is. If I wanted to, I could talk about how super awesome Daniel Sturridge is. Heck, I probably SHOULD be writing about how it’s okay for us to go ahead and believe that title No.19 is quickly becoming a legitimate possibility.

But that’s boring and there’s a million places you can go for such talk. I’m here to talk about the real issues.

Like which professional wrestling villain is more comparable to Luis Suarez.

Suarez is despised by just about everyone who doesn’t support Liverpool (and even some Liverpool supporters have been turned off by his summer antics) but at the end of the day he’s still must-see TV. He’s arguably the third best player in the world. He loves to go to ground easily around the box. He’s got all the ingredients to be a classic wrestling villain. Let’s see how he stacks up to the some  of the greatest villains in wrestling history, with their ranking according to a recent WWE list (which can be found here)…

*Full Disclosure: I’m 25 years old, so unfortunately you won’t find any discussions of Sgt. Slaughter or Killer Kowalski in this list*

Vickie Guerrero

Excuse me…Excuse Me…EXCUSE ME!!!

Technically she never enters the ring, but the former GM of Monday Night Raw is incredibly annoying. “Annoying” is probably the one word that best describes Luis Suarez. Guerrero is always being interrupted by the crowd and constantly has to ask for everyone’s attention to get her message out. Suarez also tends to find his runs into the box interrupted by defenders and often has to plead with the referee for some attention.

Iron Sheik

This is about as old school as it will get in this discussion (other than my top pick, who will be revealed shortly). An over the top stereotype, the Iron Sheik loved to run his mouth and still does quite  a bit on Twitter these days. He was often the embodiment of America’s political enemies. Suarez doesn’t really fit in here except I think there’s a bit of an element of racism in the way he is treated. Plenty of players dive as often as he does, but in general I think Hispanic players bear the brunt of the wrath of the general public. There’s an unfair association with diving and Cental/South America and Suarez embodies that association.


No comparison here, I just wanted to give a shout out to (Spoiler Alert!) the Undertaker’s brother. Kane is absolutely terrifying and let’s no man intimidate him. Luis Suarez does not have any such characteristics.

Randy Orton

Orton’s nickname is “the Viper” and Luis Suarez is often viewed as something of a snake. I don’t disagree. Both of these men love to lie low and strike at the most opportune moment.

Edge, The Rated-R Superstar

Edge is just a flat out unlikable d-bag. Most people outside of Liverpool’s loyal ranks would probably tend to agree. His finishing move (SPEAR!) is a little too physical for the likes of Suarez, but the level of contempt among the general population for both is pretty comparable. Edge often likes to whine when he doesn’t get his way and Suarez was pretty whiny over the summer when he tried to force his way out of Liverpool.

Chris “Y2J” Jericho

Now we’re getting closer to a legitimate comparison. Jericho’s ego is one of the largest in the history of professional wrestling (and that’s saying something) and Suarez showed us a glimpse of such ego during his summer drama. Both of these men love to troll their haters and seem to feed off of the hatred. They are the best at what they do and are incredibly entertaining, no matter how despicable they may behave at any given time.

Ric Flair (1…2…3…WINNER!!!)

Here’s my pick for the most accurate comparison. Flair is an all-time great among the wrestling ranks. Suarez still has a way to go in his career, but his ability easily belongs in the Top 5 of current footballers. Like Jericho, Flair fed off the negative energy and entertained even the most ardent of his haters.

The biggest trait they both share is their “sneakiness”. Flair resorted to downright dirty tactics and did whatever it took to win. Likewise, Suarez has earned his reputation as a diver and is no stranger to dirty tactics (see: Branislav Ivanovic’s arm). It is the combination of this “sneakiness” and their ability (both of which are simultaneously connected and completely separate) that makes such a match made in infamy.

Both of them also have a…here it comes…FLAIR for the dramatic!!! Goodnight everybody!


What do you think? Is there another wrestling villain out there who is comparable to the polarizing Uruguayan?

Sep 302013

I’m going to be completely honest: I was a complete spaz on Sunday.

Every time Luis Suarez touched the ball I was on my toes, hands clasped together as I focused in on the play developing. For all his faults, he is still must-see TV even after a long suspension. Of course, Liverpool’s defense kept things interesting as well. Which brings us to the point of this post. There were some things I couldn’t help but notice after the final whistle blew, starting with…

The 3-5-2 Won’t Work Against Good Teams

Sunderland are a bit deceiving because they’ve got so much individual talent, yet they can’t seem to get it organized and on the same page. Liverpool were fortunate to concede just one goal with their new three man backline of Kolo Toure, Martin Skrtel, and Mamadou Sakho. The wing backs (in this case Jose Enrique and Jordan Henderson) were caught too far forward way too often and Sunderland were quick to take advantage from the opening kick. They were able to get wide way too easily and if the opponent had been Tottenham or Arsenal or even Everton, the consequences would have been more severe.

I realize there’s a surplus of center back talent at the moment, but I really would like to see Brendan Rodgers get back to a four man back line with two true fullbacks.

Luis Suarez And Daniel Sturridge CAN Play Together

I think part of it was due to the fact that they were a true striker tandem playing off of one another, but they looked incredibly in sync for just their second appearance together this season. I had my doubts, but that’s also because I still want to see the 4-3-3 formation that was being used prior to the Sunderland game.

Even if one has to play a more traditional “winger” role and only one can be a lone center forward, the future looks bright with both of these guys on the pitch at the same time.

Mamadou Sakho Might Be The Best Addition Of The Summer

You could certainly make a case for Victory Moses, especially after seeing him all over the attacking third against Sunderland, and Kolo Toure has been steady at the back, but my pick is the French center back. He frustrated Jozy Altidore right from the start. Last season Liverpool struggled with large, powerful strikers but Sakho had no issues handling the American international. He also looked very composed whenever he was on the ball and had some decent distribution coming out of the back at times.

I’m still waiting for Kolo Toure to get himself injured, but it’s good to know Sakho is capable of shutting down big target forwards when called upon.

A Central Midfielder Is January’s Top Priority

Lucas and Steven Gerrard looked pretty good, but they were facing Sunderland and guys like Mesut Özil and Christian Eriksen won’t be as easy to shut down through the center of the park. Whether he’s a more central figure in a 4-3-3 or a wing back in the 3-5-2, Jordan Henderson hasn’t progressed the way we thought he might after his strong finish to last season. Joe Allen must be struggling mightily in training because he can’t buy himself any playing time right now. Yes, Coutinho can be considered a central attacking midfielder, but Liverpool really need another box-to-box guy.

Personally, I would’ve loved to see Etienne Capoue in there but the Reds will have to look long and hard come January for an enforcer to make the back line’s job easier. Lyon’s Maxime Gonalons and Benfica’s Nemanja Matic are worth keeping an eye on.

The Schedule Is Liverpool’s Best Friend

Liverpool’s next three are Crystal Palace, Newcastle, and a very tricky West Brom before the big showdown with Arsenal. Six points against Crystal Palace and Newcastle is mandatory to keep title hopes alive as neither of those sides really present much of a challenge. We can all see what a trap West Brom is right before Arsenal, but a draw there wouldn’t be terrible. There are lots of wins to be had after the trip to the Emirates; three of the four opponents after that are a dreadful Fulham, Hull City, and an underachieving Norwich with a trip to Goodison Park sandwiched in the middle.

Three December matches with Spurs, Manchester City, and Chelsea will ultimately show us how high this team can climb, but until then there are loads of chances for three points.


“Walk on with hope in your heart and you’ll never walk alone!”


Scousers Stymied At Old Trafford

 Posted by on September 26, 2013 at 11:24 am  Blogs/Media, Liverpool, Manchester United
Sep 262013

Manchester United 1-0 Liverpool
Manchester United v Liver 004 Scousers Stymied At Old TraffordNo doubt about it. Manager David Moyes was ecstatic after this win. Seconds after the referee Mark Clattenburg blew his whistle, Moyes was out on the pitch, shaking hands with every single Manchester United player before standing in front of the Stretford End nodding, bowing and grinning in a manner that bellied his usual gruff, Caledonian reserve. No. No doubt about it. Losing to both Manchester City and Liverpool in four days would have been unbearable.

Moyes certainly bollixed up the night for the ravenous jackals of Fleet Street. The big story was supposed to be Luis Suárez’s comeback after a ten match suspension, but the Premier League’s most press-worthy racist cannibal, although clearly very fit, was not at all sharp. Instead, a more collectively gutsy United abandoned the self-absorbed kind of sloppiness that has stunted so much of the football they’ve played thus far this season for something more disciplined. Led by captain Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs, who is a few weeks short of 40, they hustled and pressed. Indeed, they reminded me of a hustling pressing team like Swansea City… playing against Manchester United. “The whole club were hurt by the game on Sunday,” Moyes said.

Let’s get this straight, though. This is not a great United side. Hustle can only go so far when your technique is limited by the quality of true soldiers you have available. The same old problems still show themselves off at the back like galvanized neon and though it was nice to see a fit Jonny Evans back at the back, his lack of positional sense, along with the relentless panic that repeatedly seizes Chris Smalling, did the hard working full back pairing of Rafael and Alexander Büttner no favors. Liverpool were allowed way too much possession in United’s penalty box and, although the tricky dribbling of Sturridge and Suarez plagued Evans and Smalling as we knew it would do, the usual supply of killer passes they get to feed on from Coutinho were sorely missed. Having Phil Jones around as a sweeper didn’t hurt either. Evans and Smalling are faster than the usual pairing of Vidic and Ferdinand. Both fine athletes, they could be a marvelous pairing if they had just a little more savvinness about them. With Jones playing the fixed role of water boy between them, neither of the Liverpool strikers got the kind of time or space they tend to feed upon like vampires.

70123949 70123948 Scousers Stymied At Old TraffordUnited made eight changes from the Sunday team, but this was not the usual cobbling together of reserves and youth-team kids that all the top six of the PL normally put out for this competition. Too many problems for that. Moyes used the fixture well. Nani can drive you crazy, but he was mostly full of derring-do and energy. Clearly superior to either Valencia or Young, Nani looked positively majestic later in the match when he was joined on the field by Adnan Januzaj. And although Moyes moans about his not being fit and in spite of being played totally out of position on the left, Shinji Kagawa can do so much in small isolated spaces, engineering chances out of nothing, that it’s essentially Moyes finds a way to play him more. Atypical was an exquisite bit of business where Kagawa, boxed in by three defenders, still gave them the slip, managing to make the space and time to flick an absolute ooh-ah 20-harder beauty that, sadly, hit the bar.

Manchester United v Liver 005 Scousers Stymied At Old TraffordSizzling up front and competent at the back, United always looked like they had it in them more to score than the Red Scousers. Having ceded the middle to Liverpool, United relied on stifling Liverpool’s misfiring attack and cavalry-like speedy counterattacks performed with gusto by Rafael and Nani and the constantly dangerous pairing of Wayne Rooney and– substituting effectively for Robin Van Persie–Javíer Hernandez. Indeed, with Rooney captain for the night, the groove he has now found, even against City, may be the best football he has ever played. Rooney, always at his best when allowed to roam all over the pitch and given no help whatsoever by an ineffective Anderson, was United’s best player throughout.

There were a number of near-misses for both sides, but when Hernández struck, a minute into the second half, it was a clever, beautiful goal. Rooney’s corner was not especially well taken, but it was clear that this was a play he and the Mexican assassin had worked on before. As the ball arced its way in, Hernández spun away from his marker, José Enrique, altered his body to suit the trajectory of the ball, rose, his instep all the way up to his chest and fired his shot past goalkeeper Simon Mignolet. A striker of his ability, underrated even by his own boss, Chicharito only needed the one moment of being unmarked by a generous Liverpool defense to administer the dagger. His beautiful coup-de-grace will surely give Moyes food for thought after observing too many episodes of Danny Welbeck’s dithering.

Liverpool fans will surely moan that they played well and lost. The brilliance of David De Gea had something to do with that and more than a few chances were wasted by Sturridge, Henderson and Suarez. The Spaniard’s fine save from a fantastic Victor Moses header certainly showed what an innately brilliant a shot-stopper he is. Liverpool losing after controlling the ball for more than 60% of the game surely shows that United did something right, too. The next fixture against West Bromwich Albion, a decent but very beatable opponent, will also offer Moyes the opportunity to tinker with his line-up.

Manchester Uniteds Mexica 004 Scousers Stymied At Old Trafford

Sep 232013

I could have spent more time making that headline more alliterate, but alliteration is for losers.

Liverpool suffered a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Southampton on Saturday that suddenly has them on the outside looking in when it comes to the EPL title race. Without Philippe Coutinho in the lineup, Liverpool seemed to be missing the creativity that has propelled them to such a good start. Daniel Sturridge found himself in need of service and reverted to Selfish Daniel, taking a handful of ill-advised shots in search of a spark for himself. With Jose Enrique and Aly Cissokho not quite 100% fit, Brendan Rodgers sent out all four of his primary center backs. With little help attacking from the flanks, the Reds were forced to try and barrel their way through the center of Southampton’s defense without their diminutive, Brazilian playmaker to unlock everything.

The loss is even worse considering the other results from around the league this past weekend. Manchester City looked impressive dominating the Manchester Derby on Sunday while Tottenham stole three points at the death and Arsenal and Chelsea completed very businesslike wins over lesser opponents. As talented as they may be, a loss to Southampton at home is the kind of result that you look back on when you’re 6 points out of first in the middle of April and wonder what could have been.

However, Liverpool fans need not lose hope just yet. First and foremost, their next two opponents are Sunderland and Crystal; the two worst teams in the table. Sunderland has just sacked Paolo di Canio and Crystal Palace will be welcoming back Ian Holloway after a two game suspension. These two teams present Liverpool a golden opportunity for six points and the chance to quickly get back into the title race. Then there’s the return of Luis Suarez from his suspension for biting Branislav Ivanovic last season. And in the absence of Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool may have found a new No.10 to pull the strings and feed Sturridge and Suarez: Luis Alberto. The young Spaniard scored a hat trick for the Under-21 side this time last week and showed signs of life as he displayed his creativity as a late sub against Southampton. The moment that sticks out in my mind was his attempted heel flick that, had he continued his run, would have sprung Sturridge into the box with just moments left in the match. Unfortunately, Selfish Daniel revealed himself at an inopportune time and he couldn’t be bothered to continue his run in the dying embers of a match that was there to be (at the very least) drawn.

The return of one Luis and the revelation of another leaves Brendan Rodgers with more options than he appeared to have after Coutinho departed last Monday’s draw with his shoulder injury. Here’s a Starting XI that should easily be able to conquer Sunderland Crystal Palace over the next few weeks…


Flanagan – Agger – Sakho – Enrique


Gerrard – Henderson

Aspas – Suarez – Luis Alberto

First of all, I’m not convinced Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez can form a proper partnership playing in Rodgers’ preferred 4-3-3. It also wouldn’t be a bad idea to have Sturridge sit on the bench at the start of the next match to let him clear his head. I’m not wild about Aspas’s start in the EPL, but he has the creativity to link up very well with Suarez and Alberto at the top of the formation. The central midfield trio looked silly against Southampton and Liverpool suddenly find themselves with limited options beyond Joe Allen. If Martin Kelly is still slow to recover, I don’t see the problem in letting a true right back like Jon Flanagan take over for Glen Johnson. The four center back line clearly didn’t work, so get some natural outside backs in there.

I’m really excited to see Suarez back. I think he ought to be back in the starting lineup immediately and it was very encouraging to see him singing You’ll Never Walk Alone so enthusiastically prior to kickoff on Saturday. I think he’s over all the summer nonsense and starving to get back to his goal scoring ways. Do not underestimate his level of motivation, especially heading into a match against a Sunderland squad ripe for the picking. Stick Alberto next to him, and I see a 3-0 result this weekend to get things back on track.

Fear not Liverpool fans. Saturday’s loss hurt, but Dos Luis(es?) can still help right the ship!

“Walk on with hope in your heart and you’ll never walk alone!”