Thursday, August 27, 2009

What a dive!

The Brits tend to have a stereotype that only foreigners dive. But we all know that's not true and we've seen some really good dives from British players over the years, with the most recent coming from Everton's Tony Hibbert against Burnley. Still, Arsenal's Eduardo didn't make things any better for the perception that foreigners are serial divers after this fabulous tumble against Celtic. Check it out below:

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Is Liverpool's title challenge in tatters?

Maybe 20 years is not long enough.

After their best title challenge in recent memory last season, Liverpool fans the world over were starting to believe as though league title number 19 would finally arrive 20 years after the Reds last won the league. But if the first three games of season 2009/10 are anything to go by, Liverpool fans could end up waiting 21 years before the club of Bill Shankly are once again crowned champions of England.

That's not too suggest Liverpool's two league defeats has sent their title challenge down the gutter. Nonetheless, it would be naive to suggest all is well at Anfield considering the Reds only lost two matches last season and a side that wants to win league titles can only afford to lose four to five games at the most. Not the most comforting outlook considering the fact that the Reds have yet to meet any of the other so-called Big Four sides.

Many of the problems this blog pointed out after Liverpool's defeat to Tottenham on opening weekend were once again clear for all to see when the Merseysiders met Aston Villa. The Reds weakest region still remains its midfield and Rafa Benitez needs to sort it out soon instead of wishing it away.

Case in point of course is the wonder that is Lucas Leiva, ie; the world's most talentless Brazilian. But where Lucas was once just a dud on the field, the Brazilian has now elevated himself into a liability thanks to his reckless challenge that led to a Villa freekick which he then subsequently decided to head it past Reina.

Even Lucas' biggest defender -Benitez himself - took the Brazilian out in the 60th minute before he could commit anymore match-losing moments. As this blog has mentioned before, Lucas is not and WILL NOT ever fill in Xabi Alonso's shoes.

And both Villa and Spurs were quick to exploit the weak partnership between Mascherano and Lucas and if things don't change soon enough, a team playing Liverpool will have to field a tight and organised midfield to ensure the ball never gets to both Torres and Gerrard.

Speaking of Gerrard, I think its time Benitez comes to the realisation that only his captain is capable of filling in Alonso's role. And instead of deploying the likes of Voronin, Babel or Ngog up front with Torres, he might as well give young Kristian Nemeth a chance considering his impressive performances in the Reds pre-season Asian tour.

Whatever it is, Benitez needs to act fast if he doesn't want Liverpool's best chance of winning the Premiership to slip by once again because regardless of how they've opened this season, this campaign is still realistically the best chance they'll get at the title. The players are still fresh from last season's race and the experience gained may be the deciding factor in the title race, should they get to the stage they were in last season.

But if mistakes like Lucas are allowed to go on, Liverpool fans only have their team to blame for not ending what seems like a never-ending title drought. Maybe 20 years just isn't long enough.

Is Moyes in danger of losing his job?

If there's one manager who's rarely a candidate for an early retirement package from his employers, its David Moyes. After seven seasons in charge of Everton, Moyes has had the kind of board room backing managers like Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger enjoy. But if things don't start improving soon, there's a fair chance Moyes could very well add on to the UK's already high unemployment rate during the course of the current campaign.

Of course, it has be noted that the assumption Moyes is in danger of losing his job because of two consecutive defeats is premature to say the least. Many clubs are traditional late starters and Everton's been one of them over the past few seasons.

But Everton's losses in previous seasons have never been this devastating. A 6-1 thumping at home to Arsenal followed by an equally absymal 1-0 defeat to Premier League newbies, Burnley, seems to suggest, among others, that there is a genuine lack of confidence and quality in Moyes' side. In both fixtures, Everton were outplayed, outpaced and outthought. The only difference was Burnley's poor finishing. If these performances are anything to go by, it's time to push the panic button at Goodison before the Blues fall behind even more.

Making matters worse for Moyes is the loss of England defender, Jolean Lescott, to Man City. I've no idea who he's bringing in as a replacement but he'd better find someone real good this time - the clamatious nature of Everton's defence this season would be something of a spectacle if it was David James and not Time Howard at goal.

Perhaps the loss of Mikel Arteta to injury has cost Everton the creative spark in midfield they so desperately need at the moment. But the fact that there's no one else to step into the Spaniard's shoes in his absence only highlights Moyes' failure to have strenghtened his squad in recent years.

Either way, everything that was going well towards the end of last season for Everton seems to have gone backward at Goodison and Moyes needs his key players like Fellaini and Cahill to step up before they lose too many points and find themselves in the same territory Tottenham found themselves in the first half of last season.

But more importantly, Everton need to get out of this slump quicker than they have in previous seasons if they want to have a real crack at the top four. Otherwise, we can expect a repeat of previous seasons. And while some clubs would consider it an achievement to finish fifth or sixth in the Premier League, it's not good enough for a team that wants to be taken seriously by the big four.

Monday, August 17, 2009

So this is Liverpool without Alonso?

Losing your first game of the season is never a good sign. More so if its a club that's desperately seeking to end a 20-year title drought. But that's just the way it happened for Liverpool on the opening weekend of season 2009/10. Rafa Benitez and Liverpool diehard fans may try to play down the significance of the defeat and they've every right to considering that the outcome of the season openers rarely spell the outcome in May the following year.

But one thing was clearly evident from the Reds 1-2 defeat to Tottenhm: the loss of Xabi Alonso has left a huge void in Liverpool's midfield. Its true that Liverpool managed to win several games last season without the Spanish playmaker but all the signs on Sunday pointed to a team that was totally bereft of creativity, organisation and ambition in the middle of the park.

A mediocre outing by Javier Mascherano as well as yet another miserable showing by the blundering Lucas led to one of the most quiet afternoon's Fernando Torres has had since coming to England on one end and a very vulnerable defence on the other end.

But I wonder what Benitez was hoping would happen with the pairing of both Mascherano and Lucas in midfield. Neither one is known for their creativity or playmaking abilities. And while Mascherano generally provides Liverpool's back four with extra cover, the same can't be said of the Brazilian Lucas who somehow seems to be totally void of all the skills and talents his fellow country men are famous for.

In fact, it wasn't until the last quarter of the game when Steven Gerrard moved down into midfield was there some semblance of order and distribution in the most important part of the pitch. I certainly can understand Benitez' decision to field both Lucas and Mascherano considering he has very few other options thanks to the fact that new signing, Alberto Aquilani won't make his debut in a red shirt until October. And even then, who knows how long it will take him to adapt to English football. Lucas has been there for two seasons and still seems perpetually lost on the field.

But if there is one player who can fill in the void left by Alonso, Benitez needs to look no further than his talismanic captain who spent several years being labelled one of the best attacking midfielders in the game. No doubt, Gerrard has excelled in his new role behind Torres but there's no point keeping him up there when the ball's never going to get to them, as was the case on Sunday.

To move Gerrard back into midfield would of course would pose a bigger problem for Benitez as he too, despite what he says in the press, knows very well none of his backup strikers like Ryan Babel, David Ngog and Andrei Voronin will pose a threat to any defense in the Premier League.

So yes, I reckon the Spanish has got some major reshuffling to do to get Liverpool's season back on track. And while he may take some comfort in the fact that both Man Utd and Chelsea were made to slog it out against lesser opponents over the weekend, he should note that both teams at least got 3 points each.

And while I'm on the subject of the so-called Big Four, only one turned up this weekend and it was a team that's been dismissed thoroughly by everyone. Yes, I'm speaking of the Gooners who reminded David Moyes that his team of school girls are indeed a 'small club.' It's been a long time since Arsenal were this dominant and merciless on the pitch. If they can keep this up, who knows how the title race be?