Category Archives: Sporting Thought

Champions League Preview – How Will Liverpool Fair In The Group Stages?

Champions League Match Day 1.

September 13, Saturday – Aston Villa (Home)
September 16, Tuesday – Ludogorets (Home)
September 20, Saturday – West Ham United (Away)

Liverpool begin their campaign in the coveted Champions League with arguably their easiest round of fixtures of the Group stage. While an injury hit Liverpool side prepare for the visit of stubborn Aston Villa this weekend, Brendan Rodgers will be expecting nothing less than 3 points from his boys as they take the field against Paul Lambert’s Villa who have conceded just 1 goal in the opening 3 encounters. Daniel Sturridge’s injury and the hectic schedule will certainly stretch Rodgers’ squad depth and his management abilities. The Champions League opener against Belarusian sideLudogorets, who are making their maiden appearance in the Champions League will be a special occasion. One can bet that the terraces of the Kop and the rest of Anfield will be counting down to this day. While West Ham and Sam Allardyce have been badgered into playing attacking football with flair by Hammers fans, Liverpool will expect nothing less than physical battle like the same fixture last season. The services of one Rickie Lambert may be very crucial in such a fixture.

Can Rodgers take his team to European Glory?


Champions League Match Day 2

September 23. Tuesday – Middlesbrough (Home)
September 27. Saturday – Everton (Home)
October 1, Wednesday – Basel (Away)
October 4. Saturday – West Bromwich (Home)

Perhaps the most congested phase of Liverpool’s group stage, Rodgers will have to rotate his players well if he has to keep them in top condition. While the Nprthern Irishman has made it clear that he is out to win silverware, the Capital One Cup re[resents the perfect opportunity for Rodgers to wrap up a piece of silverware relatively early in the season. The game against Middlesbrough will be a tricky game but leave it to Rodgers to give the youngsters a run-out with the big-boys. The tricky cup-tie is followed by the much-awaited Merseyside derby at Anfield. While Everton were handed a hammering the last time they visited Anfield, the wrecker-in-chief that day Daniel Sturridge will be doubtful for the derby. Everton themselves chasing a top-4 finish under Roberto Martinez will be out for nothing less than a win. The trip to Switzerland is the most dangerous fixture for Liverpool not because Real Madrid will cut us any slack but because this game follows the heated Merseyside derby and there is a big window for complacency against a side like Basel. The Baggies visit Anfield next as Alan Irvine looks to continue his decent start this campaign. On paper, the Baggies game doesn’t look too threatening but take inot consideration the fact that Liverpool will have played 3 games in the previous 9 days and all of a sudden the visit from the Baggies doesn’t look like an easy 3 points anymore.

Champions League Match Day 3

October 19, Sunday – Queens Park Rangers (Away)
October 22. Wednesday – Real Madrid (Home)
October 25. Saturday – Hull City (Home)

The much awaited visit of the mighty Real Madrid is a day that will be marked on calendars in Liverpool fan households across the globe. However before entertaining the reigning European champs, Liverpool have to travel to London to play newly promoted Queens Park Rangers. Harry Redknapp has reminded Liverpool often times that he is not someone to be taken for granted, A stubborn defensive game at Loftus Road awaits the Reds before the visit of Madrid. Arguably, one of the most awaited games of the champions league – Liverpool and Real Madrid have played out some classics in the past. However, The strength of defending champs simply outweighs everything the Reds can put on paper. Although leave it Rodgers to pull an absolute rabbit out of a hat if necessary. If the game against Madrid would not drained everything out of Liverpool, the visit of Hull City who have been absolutely splendid in the transfer window will mean that Liverpool have no rest and they dare not take anything lightly. The game against Hull will round up the first leg of Champions League’s Group fixtures.

5 Things We Learned From Manchester United’s 2-2 Draw With Cardiff

Manchester United’s title hopes took another blow today when they drew at Cardiff City, but here are five things that we learned from the clash.

1) Cardiff’s home form is to be applauded

From the six home games that the Bluebirds have played in the Premier League this season they have and they’ve lost just twice, against Newcastle and Tottenham. They have now beaten Manchester City and Welsh rivals Swansea on their own patch and drawn with Everton and Manchester United.

2) Campbell is the real deal

The former United man struck twice against City earlier in the season to hand Cardiff their first win of the season and he hit the back of the net again today. His movement, his composure and ability in front of goal is something that has really impressed me during this season.

3) Cardiff love crosses

During the tie, Cardiff made 26 crosses, which is one every 3.4 minutes. Pumping the ball into the pitch has really worked for them this season.

4) United need to improve their take ons

United attempted 16 take ons during the game but completed just three, two of which came from Chris Smalling, and Moyes will have to look at that in finer detail.

5) Rooney needs the spotlight

It seems as though the former Everton man needs the spotlight in order to perform at his best. After kicking out at Jordon Mutch and only receiving a yellow card, he then struck the opener and was involved heavily throughout the game.

 stats via Squawka

Premier League forward makes his belated international breakthrough (video)

Wes Hoolahan is one of those rare footballers that has inspired his own cult following. Throughout Giovanni Trappatoni’s reign, he has consistently ignored the Norwich playmaker. However, this weekend, at the age of 31, he made his competitive debut for the Republic of Ireland in the 3-0 win over the Faroe Islands.

Hoolahan, for such a celebrated individual, doesn’t have the most glittering of CVs. The Dublin-born midfielder spent five years at Shelbourne in the League of Ireland, before spells at Livingston and Blackpool alerted then-manager Glenn Roeder.

After Paul Lambert took charge, Hoolahan’s career began to take off, as he blossomed in his new role just behind the strikers. He scored 13 goals in all competitions before January, and became a key player as Norwich enjoyed two successive promotions and stayed in the Premier League.

Three times since 2006 has he been named in a Team of the Year for his level in England, and while he has never enjoyed much mainstream recognition in the Premier League, it has been clear for some time that his creativity and ability to pick out an otherwise unseen pass would be a useful addition to an often predictable Irish side.

Such limitations in Trappatoni’s side were made abundantly clear in Euro 2012, but until now his only caps have come in uncompetitive games. Hoolahan’s inclusion now, at a relatively late time in his career, may hint that the Italian now finds room for a bit of flair to embellish his often overly rigid approach.

It will surely be too much to expect Hoolahan to start away against Germany, for example, but he has definitely got a role to play in the wider picture for Ireland, as this compilation proves.

Arsenal star out in the cold (video)

Andrey Arshavin was Arsenal’s record signing in January 2009, as a £15m purchase from Zenit St. Petersburg. As he departs on a free transfer, four and a half years later, did he ever really live up to that billing, or was his status as one of the world’s most sought after players misplaced?

In April 2009, the Russian gave apparent notice that his settling in period was at an end, scoring four times in a thrilling 4-4 draw against Liverpool at Anfield. It is undoubtedly this tremendous feat alone that saw Arsenal supporters vote him second in the club’s Player of the Year competition.

In truth, things could only go downhill for Arshavin from here. In his first two full seasons with the club he showed undoubted potential, scoring 22 goals across this period, but only two goals and four assists in the 2011-12 season led to a loan spell back at his former club Zenit.

He never recovered his best form in England, and with his £80,000-a-week wages being among Arsenal’s top contracts, it is no surprise to see him leave the Emirates Stadium. So can he be judged a success or failure?

Well, he did not negotiate his own transfer fee, nor did he understand the English taxing system before signing his contract, as he voiced concerns that the tax man was getting 50% of his wages. This can’t have helped him settle in, and his loan spell back home makes you wonder whether he ever did. It cannot be denied that Arsenal fans expected more, and few will be sad to see his contract running out.

At least he created one amazing memory of his time in England – that night at Anfield.

Goalkeepers that keep scoring goals (video)

Goalkeepers, for the sake of their manager’s heart-rate, should stay inside their own penalty box at all times, occasionally rushing out to close down an on-rushing striker, but only in an emergency. There are exceptions to this rule, but they must possess the finishing ability of an Alan Shearer, or the set-piece brilliance of a David Beckham. Such creatures do exist, and mainly in the footballing utopia that is South America.

Rodrigo Ceni – The 40-year-old Brazilian has spent his entire career at Sao Paulo, earning 16 caps for the national team. Most incredibly of all, in the two seasons between 2005 and 2007, he scored 47 goals in all competitions, as Sao Paulo won two league titles and the 2005 FIFA Club World Cup. Still playing for his club, Ceni holds the record of 111 goals.

Jose Luis Chilavert – Next on the list is Chilavert, with 62 goals. He is the only keeper to score a hat-trick, and is the highest scorer in international football, with nine strikes to his name for Paraguay. In addition to his goal-scoring, Chilavert also possessed a questionable temper, and was famously sent off in 1997 for brawling with Colombia’s Faustino Asprilla.

Rene Higuita – While on the subject of Colombians, Higuita is one of their finest exports, for entertainment value, and for scoring 41 goals, mainly from penalty-kicks. Arguably, the sheer joy you get from watching him show off his skills is equally worthwhile, and this video includes some of his finest moments – including that wonderful ‘scorpion kick’ against England.

Has Stuart Pearce set himself up for a fall?

Stuart Pearce, as a manager, very much landed on his feet with the England Under-21 gig. His time at Manchester City is remembered as a failure, with his final season only bringing 10 goals from 19 home games. So how did he get his current job, and will he be continuing past the European Championships, as he wishes?

Perhaps somewhat fortunately for Pearce, he had already been appointed as manager of the Under-21s in February 2007, before Man City wielded the axe at the end of that season. At the time of his appointment, it was on a part-time basis, but a combination of his club job ending and the run to the semi-finals against the Netherlands led to him earning a permanent shot at the job.

Six years later, and how has he done? Such a managerial position should not be judged entirely on results, as such logic is something youth football in this country has thankfully tried to move away from. Still, a Euro 2009 final appearance, albeit one that ended in a 4-0 defeat to Germany, was a huge feather in Pearce’s cap. Some of the criticism after the Euro 2011 group-stage knock-out saw him presumably quite close to the sack, but some quality youngsters have emerged from his time in charge.

Wilfred Zaha, Jordan Henderson, and Thomas Ince have all progressed over the past year or two, and while it is debatable how much influence Pearce has had over this, he is ensuring they get experience at the highest level.

Heading into Euro 2013 on the back of nine games without conceding, Wednesday’s opening 1-0 defeat to Italy came as a huge disappointment, with Pearce describing the performance as ‘awful’. With Norway to come tonight, the ex-Nottingham Forest defender will need a brighter performance (and yes, result) if his own future as a manager is to be a bright one. Chairmen all over the country look for managers with a winning mentality, and success at any level can only breed confidence.

Pearce may want to stay in his current position, but the silence from those above him is deafening, and this summer may prove make or break.

The reason Bellamy didn’t join Everton

Craig Bellamy is no stranger to transfer negotiations, having played at nine different clubs throughout his career. However, it is the one move he didn’t make that may give us a clue as to new Manchester United boss David Moyes’ intentions when shopping this summer. As revealed in Bellamy’s newly released autobiography, the striker came very close to joining Everton in 2005. Why didn’t he join forces with Moyes?

If there’s one thing consistent with Moyes sides it is discipline. While Wayne Rooney, for example was a wonderfully maverick talent, his relationship with the boss during his Everton days was not the best, and arguably worsened after his departure. It is worth remembering that Rooney’s Everton form was never truly outstanding, bar that opening burst onto the back pages.

A year after Rooney’s departure, who can blame Moyes for erring on the side of caution when it came to a player’s character? In 2005, Bellamy was out in the cold at Newcastle after a very public falling-out with another Scottish hard-man – Graeme Souness. Bellamy, in his book, spoke of an enthusiastic Moyes on first impressions, before this quickly turned to hostility at the second meeting. Bellamy suspects that someone warned the Everton manager about getting involved with such a volatile temperament, and that Moyes was simply laying down the law.

Given the fact that Bellamy had not yet passed his ‘golf-club’ phase, it was probably a good thing for Moyes that the Welshman was scared off, as the best Moyes teams have been built on unity. On the pitch, no one works harder than Bellamy, but his character, particularly in his twenties, was always a red flag, and Moyes has never really dabbled in high maintenance personalities.

The likes of Hatem Ben Arfa, Dimitar Berbatov, or Luis Suarez, are all players with a trick or two up their sleeve, but you never saw them anywhere near an Everton shirt, as each have been perceived to be flawed genius. Give Moyes eleven limited but united individuals any day of the week, and he’ll prefer that.

Having said that, at Man United, he will have bigger egos to deal with – particularly in the shape of the aforementioned Rooney. Whether the hatchet of past grievances can be buried is doubtful, but Moyes clearly sees the job as a challenge worth taking on.

Don’t be surprised to see Everton’s best players follow the Scot. Fellaini and Baines will be prime candidates, as Moyes trusts them. Sir Alex Ferguson however, always found room for the biggest of egos, and got the best out of them. Time will tell whether Moyes has a similar knack.

Managers feeling the pressure – the best of (video)

While many of us like to think of ourselves as football purists, with the action on the field mattering above all, it is undeniably fun to watch a manager dispensing with pleasantries and saying something that makes you stop and think ‘did he just say that?’

Sometimes, as Rafa Benitez has shown us, even a pre-meditated statement can seem downright knee-jerk and bonkers. In the midst of Liverpool’s most threatening title challenge for years, he took the FA and Sir Alex Ferguson to task on the fixture list, Fergie’s influence over the FA, and referees. This press conference is often pin-pointed as the time that Liverpool conceded the title to Man United, when in reality, they won 12 out of 15 games to end the season. So ignore the context, and enjoy the compelling viewing.

If Benitez was calm and collected, Kevin Keegan was nothing of the sort. In a post-match interview after a win at Leeds, the Newcastle manager was bristling at the suggestion that teams were trying harder against Fergie’s Man United side than Newcastle. In the heat of one of the Premier League’s most exciting title races, the Magpies were blowing a 12-point lead, and like Liverpool, ended up losing out. Unfortunately, with the timing and emotion involved, it is impossible to look past this as a key psychological victory for Man United.

This one was a snapshot into what many managers are genuinely like, on the bench – pure unbridled adrenaline and emotion. For Graham Taylor, this was the night when it all started to unravel. Needing a win, England fell to a 2-0 defeat in Holland, as their World Cup 1994 hopes were cut to ribbons, thanks largely to a Ronald Koeman free-kick. Koeman was lucky to stay on the field to begin with, and Taylor realised exactly what this night would cost him – his job.