Monday, 27 August 2007

Premiership game week 4

Saturday 25th August

In the 12.45 kick off Liverpool faced a very tricky fixture away at Sunderland, the kind of team that in previous seasons may have put a dent in any Liverpool title challenge. Rafa Benitez has already made his thoughts clear when it comes to Liverpool’s fixtures after European and international games and so after a week of international games, predictably, Liverpool have an early Saturday kick off while Manchester United have a later Sunday kick off. Actually United need the rest as they are in desperate need of a result, just because Liverpool can turn out a result with little rest doesn’t mean they can does it?
Liverpool went to newly promoted Sunderland off the back of some good results on the field but some bad results off it. Liverpool were denied the services of Gabriel Heinze from the Salford reds as the premier league predictably ruled in their favour. Even though Heinze had a letter signed, sating he was free to move if the price was right, the letter failed to specify which clubs could buy him. The 3 man panel of United fans, I mean independent football type people judged that even though the letter did not rule out any team from buying Heinze, United probably should have stated that Liverpool were out of bounds. The panel, in its infinite wisdom decided that that fact should be understood, written or not and Heinze was denied what he longed for, a move from Manchester to Liverpool, he has now signed for Real Madrid.
On the field Liverpool fared better this week (unlike last week when Rob Styles gifted Chelsea a point) when they travelled away to Roy Keane’s Sunderland. Sunderland flew up from the Championship last season but will be among the favourites to go back down, Keane seems to have the right qualities as a manger and I think he will keep them up and he could even become a regular in the league. Sunderland also had the opportunity to start with a front 2 who would be know to all football fans, Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole, the very same 2 who had partnered each other at Manchester united alongside Keane. Keane signed Cole the day before the game but confirmed he would play no part; it will be interesting to see if they can rekindle some of the form they had for Manchester united years ago.
The game started well for Liverpool who were dressed in black, with Voronin going close very early on after he ran onto a bad back pass but Gordon saved well. Not long after that Darryl Murphy’s shoulder came out on top in a battle with Sami Hyypia’s nose and the big Finn eventually had to be replaced by Daniel Agger.
Sunderland had a good opportunity when Pennant gave the ball away about 40 yards out, it was fed through the defence and Chopra found himself with the goal in his sights, his tight angle shot beat Reina but it didn’t have enough power to get past the substitute Agger. Liverpool looked likeier to open the scoring, Pennant causing some problems down the right wing and Voronin and Torres always lurking. The break through eventually came when a lofted Alonso pass into the box was headed back by Pennant, it fell to Voronin, who noticed Momo Sissoko steaming up from midfield, he laid it off for him and Sissoko smashed it into the bottom right corner of the net from 20+ yards. Unbelievably it was Sissoko’s first ever goal in a Liverpool shirt, a great way to get off the mark.
Just before the end of the half Liverpool had a golden opportunity to make it 2-0 when a bad clearance fell to Voronin, he fed it to Pennant who crossed first time to find the head of Torres. A good save from Gordon down to his left, he then turned and scrambled to the ball before it crossed the line, after today's performance Keane will be looking for all those boo boys in the media who criticised him for spending what could end up being 9m for a goalkeeper.

Early in the second half Gordon would come to Sunderland’s rescue again with a fine save, the ball was given away by Sunderland on the halfway line, it was picked up by Torres who had 2 men to beat, they closed in on him from both sides, he knocked the ball through the middle of them and sprinted through the gap, he got a solid shot off that hit a well placed Gordon square in the chest. The story was all too familiar, Liverpool looked like they had a problem in closing a game out, in so many seasons past we have taken the lead only to waste opportunities to kill it off and regretted it later. Bad news was to come for Liverpool when Jamie Carragher was injured in a collision whilst trying to defend a free kick, the knock looked innocent enough but it was confirmed later that he had broken a rib, not a good ay for Liverpool center backs!
Sunderland came close with a snap shot from Stokes but Reina saw it go wide of his right post. A good piece of skill by Torres saw him go past a defender to the byline, his pulled back cross ended up at the feet of Voronin and his powered shot was again stopped by Gordon, not that he knew too much about it. The killer blow, which has been lacking in previous seasons, was eventually delivered to an outclassed Sunderland side in a nice team goal. Babel and Pennant played one two with Pennant back heeling his pass back to Babel. He in turn passed across to Torres; Voronin was outside him running ahead and was fed the ball by the young Spaniard. With a defender in front of him the Ukrainian striker turned him to put the ball on his right foot and placed it in the far bottom corner of the net from about 16 yards, my man of the match, Craig Gordon got a touch but it wasn’t enough, 2-0. The game was finally closed out with 3 minutes of normal time to go; a little earlier in the future will do many red nerves the world of good.

In the 3pm games Arsenal won their home game against a rampant Man City 1-0, Chelsea beat Portsmouth 1-0 at Stamford Bridge with a trademark goal by Frank Lampard, it went in off someone else, this time the keeper.
Sammy Lee got some relief when Bolton won 3-0 at home against Reading, Relegation candidates Derby and Birmingham fought over 3 potentially priceless points with Birmingham coming out on top 2-1. West Ham and Wigan took a point each at Upton Park and Villa beat Fulham 2-1 at home.

In the Sunday games the North East derby between Boro and Newcastle saw 4 goals, each side scoring 2 and Manchester United had to rely on some bad refereeing to secure their first win of the season against Spurs. The Londoners were denied a clear penalty for handball and United had to rely on a great strike of the ball from Nani, not exactly the kind of win or goal that would inspire confidence for coming games including Keane’s return to Old Trafford, Everton at Goodison and Chelsea at home.

Monday, 20 August 2007

Premiership Game Week 3

Saturday 18th August

West ham got their first win of the season with a Mark Noble penalty settling their game and Spurs also got their first win of the season with a very comfortable 4-0 win over Derby County. Boro’ beat Fulham 2-1, but the Londoners were denied a goal after the ball was deemed to have not crossed the line, which it apparently did. Newcastle and Villa played out a 0-0 draw in a game that I’m sure was as dull as it sounds. Pompey continue their impressive start to the season with a 3-1 win over Bolton, Sammy Lee may be in the running to get the sack first as Bolton have now lost all 3 of their opening games and sit rock bottom of the table with -5 goal difference. Reading ended Everton’s impressive start to the season with a 1-0 win at home courtesy of Stephen Hunt and Wigan won their second home game in a row with a 3-0 win over Sunderland although they needed 2 penalties to get there, they top the table at the end of Saturday’s games.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

In the early Kick off Manchester United travelled to Eastland’s stadium to face rivals Manchester City, (city rivals in name only of course because United’s Old Trafford stadium isn’t actually in Manchester, as it’s name suggests it’s in the borough of Trafford – so there really is only one team in Manchester!) without Rooney and Ronaldo but they have players they can bring in to replace them so to call them under strength would not be fair to Manchester City should they get a good result.
The Manchester City fans were in good voice, as you would expect seeing as they sit 2nd in the table, (admittedly with only 2 games played) but the noise was subdued a little when after around 7 minutes Ericsson was forced into an early substitution when Valeri Bojinov had to be stretchered off on his debut. He was replaced by Emile Mpenza. The game wasn’t as free flowing as the neutral would like and United did seem to be lacking something up front and although the possession stats would suggest United dominated the game, it was pretty even. That was until the 32nd minute when Deiberson Geovanni fired a shot toward goal that eluded Van der Sar after a deflection off Vidic. The ‘Citeh’ fans were ecstatic and those sitting next to the away fans immediately turned and began goading their nearest but not so dearest.

Tevez missed an absolute sitter the 91st minute, the United bench were up, broad smiles of relief on their faces only to have them wiped away a second later when they realised that their prize capture of the summer fluffed it, Fergie’s face was absolutely priceless.

In a desperate attempt to get something from this game United bring on Chris Eagles, a really desperate and possibly irrational move. Then to make matters worse, he brings on Campbell, I swear I heard “who the hell is Campbell” echoing around the away end of Eastland’s. United lost the game and now have 2 points from 3 games, Could this be a season too far for Fergie?

I went to the pub to watch the Liverpool V Chelsea game and to my delight there was a Manc there, moaning about losing but not actually having anything to complain about other than the fact they they were beaten by a better team. We exchanged a bit of witty repartee (the wit coming from me I might add) but he seemed to turn a little bit bitter when he realised that he really should be quiet and that as far as this season is concerned he has no defence for United’s disastrous start, but he didn’t, instead he turned to that oldest and most ridiculous trope of all tropes, the last refuge of the desperate Manc and said "How many Premier league titles have you won?”, to make himself look like an even bigger tit, he gestured with his hands “0” . Sad indeed.

The game of the day was undoubtedly Liverpool V Chelsea at Anfield, a match which has become something of a grudge match in recent seasons, what with us beating them in the Champions league a few times. Liverpool started with what looks like Rafa’s favourite premiership starting 11; Reina, Agger, Carragher, Arbeloa, Finnan, Gerrard, Alonso, Pennant (Babel 68), Riise (Crouch 83), Kuyt and Torres.
Chelsea started with Cech, Essien, Ben-Haim, Terry, Ashley Cole, Kalou (Pizarro 46), Wright-Phillips (Joe Cole 77), Obi, Lampard, Malouda (Alex 85), Drogba.

Liverpool started like the team who wanted to win the game with Kuyt running around like a madman, seemingly not stopping to breathe and Gerrard marshalling the Reds from the middle of the park.

The game was always destined to be a fiery meeting given the games in recent seasons but this particular match was overshadowed by catastrophic and baffling refereeing decisions by the B*****d in the black, Rob Styles.
Gerrard started like a man with a point to prove and he certainly proved to the Liverpool fans watching around the world that he is committed to the cause and is seemingly willing to give it his all to bring the championship home come May, he was easily the best player on the pitch and warranted the captain's armband more than ever. Liverpool started the better of the two teams and the Torres and Kuyt partnership would seem to be a good one, Torres came good after only 16 minutes when he ran onto a through ball from Gerrard, slowed and then sped up to skip past Ben-Haim, he then opened his body up to expose the far right corner of the goal and simply slotted it in the corner, a fantastic goal on his Anfield debut.

The Chelsea players tried their best to intimidate the referee and it seemed to work with Chelsea winning the vast majority of the 50-50 free kick decisions but the pressure of the big game was too much for him and he started brandishing yellow cards like he was giving away sweets, 9 by the end of the game.
Styles really cracked under the big game pressure and unfortunately for Liverpool when he cracked and lost his mind it was Chelsea who benefited from his lost head. The first and most costly mistake he made was the awarding of a penalty to Chelsea in the 62nd minute, the Rafa dubbed ‘Invisible Penalty’ was the most curious decision of the day and nobody inside the stadium could possibly justify its awarding. The ball was played across the edge of the box by SWP, Finnan and Malouda went for the ball but ran into each other as the ball ran behind them at least a yard away but Styles blew and pointed to the spot, which justifiably enraged Carragher. There wasn’t a Chelsea protest in sight. Lampard put the penalty away and then celebrated like a petulant schoolboy with a point to prove. The reality is that the penalty was a fantastical creation by Rob Styles that only he can explain and Chelsea didn’t deserve to draw level. In the immortal word of Jimmy Cricket “there’s more”.

11 minutes later Styles brandished the yellow card at John Terry for protesting at a Ben-Haim foul on Torres, he walked away and Michael Essien, who had been booked after 12 minutes remained talking to the ref. Less than a minute or so later Styles produced the yellow card again with Terry nowhere in sight. Ben-Haim was now present with the Ghanaian and the ref waved the card in their direction, they had both been previously booked and so all Styles had to do was to clarify for the 45,000 crowd which one of them was given their marching orders. But he didn’t. The game continued and those 2 bizarre decisions in 11 minutes cost Liverpool 2 points which could prove crucial come the end of the season. Styles claimed to have been showing the card to Terry, but this is inconsistent with what actually happened.

Liverpool had opportunities to finish the game and render obsolete the workings of Styles, Riise had an opportunity from close range but Cech saved well and Babel fired a shot into the side netting. Maybe we should have taken one of them and killed the game off but that shouldn’t let anyone skirt over the worst display of referring since Graham Poll's 3 yellow card antics at the World cup. Maybe Styles should suffer the same fate as him.

Predictably Mourinho thought the ref did a good job and claimed that a few Liverpool players could have made his afternoon a little bit easier, well he would wouldn’t he. As it turns out Rob Styles didn’t do a good job, Referees' chief Keith Hackett said so, so Jose was wrong. Styles admitted he made a mistake and Hackett offered his apologies to Liverpool and said Styles should do the same. Styles has been dropped for the weekend's upcoming games but that doesn’t change the point that we wuz robbed.

Friday, 17 August 2007

Premier League - Week 2

Wednesday night was round two of the premiership (excluding Everton’s game on Tuesday) and at the start of play Everton topped the premiership with their win the day before. Liverpool and Arsenal miss this round of games while they attempt to gain entry into the Champion’s league proper and a few other teams didn’t play either.

On Tuesday, Everton shocked a few people by beating Spurs 3-1 at White Hart Lane and condemning them to their 2nd defeat in as many games, a terrible start for a team who looked like they were going to really be contenders for some silverware this season. Lescott scored after only 3 minutes to give the blues the lead but Gardener struck back in the 26th minute to level the scores and put some shakey spurs nerves at ease. That was until Leon Osman’s goal 11 minutes later restored Everton’s lead, the game was effectively won when Alan Stubbs scored in the 45th minute to seal a second successive defeat for Spurs. Everton go to Reading on Saturday and will believe they can keep this run going while Spurs host derby and will surely go all out to record their first win in a so far dismal opening month to the season.

The shock of the Wednesday night games was Manchester United’s second successive draw; they drew 1-1 with Portsmouth at Fratton Park. Carlos Tevez set up United’s goal with Scholes putting the ball away but Zimbabwean Benjani Mwaruwari levelled the score after 53 minutes. The game ended on a sour note as both sides had a man sent off. Muntari was sent off after 83 minutes for a second yellow card and 2 minutes later Ronaldo was shown a straight red for his involvement in a scuffle with Richard Hughes. United must now go into the Manchester derby without Ronaldo or Rooney.
Other results on Wednesday saw Man city beat Derby 1-0, they now sit second in the table, Birmingham and Sunderland drew 2-2 in an early season battle of the relegation favourites, Fulham beat Bolton 2-1 to hand Bolton their second defeat of the season, Chelsea managed to beat Reading 2-1 after the Royals took the lead and Wigan beat Boro’ 1-0 at home.

Round 3 on Saturday.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Week 1 of the Premiership

The premiership season started Saturday with a bit of a surprise in Sunderland beating much fancied Tottenham in the early kick off. Roy Keane’s team were always going to give it their all on opening day but I doubt if Keane himself seriously thought they were going to win against a spurs team that has been charged with trying to break into the top 4 this season.
The highlight of the day must be seeing the goal of the month scored on opening day by Steven Gerrard. Liverpool travelled away to Villa for the opening game in what in past seasons would have been a very tricky opener. Liverpool haven’t lost at Villa park since the 97/98 season, when they went down 2-1 but it was precisely these kinds of games over the last few seasons that has seen Liverpool fall behind Manchester United and Chelsea in the race for elusive championship number 19. Fernando Torres started up front with Dirk Kuyt, Gerrard started in his favourite position, right in the middle of the park, Arbeloa started as left back with Riise playing in front of him, Carragher, Agger, Alonso, Finnan and Pennant made up the starting line 11.
Liverpool were the dominant team on the pitch and looked the most likely to take the lead. After several chances, a few of which fell to Torres, Liverpool went ahead when a pass, dummied by Kuyt, fell to Torres, his shot was parried by Taylor but Kuyt rescued the ball before it went out and his cross was knocked into the Villa net by Laursen. Liverpool kept their lead and looked good for the win until 6 minutes from time when Carragher handled the ball in the area, Mike Riley pointed to the spot and Gareth Barry converted the kick. Liverpool would be justified in feeling a bit hard done by losing their lead so close to the finish but 2 minutes later a Gerrard run was impeded by Stiliyan Petrov and a free kick was awarded when it became clear there was going to be advantage. Riise and Alonso both stepped up but it was the captain who decided to take it and try to rescue Liverpool on the opening day of the season. A sublime and inch perfect free kick left the keeper floundering at full stretch and even though he got fingertips to it, he was never going to get enough on it to keep it out of the net. This was not the first important goal that Gerrard had scored for Liverpool and it most certainly wont be the last but the importance, psychologically at least for Liverpool to win their opening game of the season away from home cannot be underestimated. Last year Liverpool had to wait until December for their first away win of the season and it is the first time in 5 years Liverpool have won their opening game. There are great things to come from Liverpool this season and this is the first step in a very long season but this is now something for us to build on and with Chelsea at Anfield next in the premiership, we have a great opportunity to get a leg up on one of our title rivals very early on in the season. With Arsenal and Chelsea also winning their opening games it was doubly important to not fall behind on the first day. While Chelsea apparently cruised to victory, they conceded 2 goals in the opening 36 minutes of the game at home against a team that you would expect to be fighting for their lives come the end of the season and Arsenal had to be saved with a late winner over Fulham after Lehman made a almost fatal error after less then a minute. Manchester United fared less well as they had a torrid time at the hands of a tactically astute Reading side that restricted United to a single effort that looked like it had a chance of sneaking in, Giggs’ effort in the first half which hit the post. Liverpool's 3 main rivals for the Premiership crown were all at home and all looked less than convincing.

Newcastle top the table after a win over their manager's former club 3-1, new boys Derby drew 2-2 with fancied Portsmouth, Liverpool's Merseyside rivals Everton beat Wigan 2-1, Blackburn beat Middlesbrough 2-1 and Man City beat West Ham 2-0 in London.

So week one is out of the way and I am relieved Liverpool have come through unscathed, we will surely go into next weekend's Anfield opener against Chelsea as favourites. United’s result will have little bearing on the overall season but if Reading can hold them to a 0-0 draw then it's obvious they are beatable, but I knew that anyway. Better news than the result was the injury to Wayne Rooney, he had to be substituted during the half time break with a hairline fracture of the foot, an injury that will keep him out for most of September I hear, thank you Michael Duberry.

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