Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Weekend Observations 2nd-3rd October 2010: Part 1

How the mighty have fallen. If at any point in the last 50 years somebody told you that the great Liverpool FC would by in the relegation zone 10 games into a new season having lost to both Northampton Town and Blackpool already, you’d have probably been sectioned under the mental health act, hauled off to a loony bin and forced to spend the remainder of your days trying to have futile conversations with some nutter who reckons crunchy peanut butter is better than smooth (it isn’t!).

Things seem to have reached a nadir this week with the aforementioned home defeat to a Blackpool side that, let’s be honest, shouldn’t even have had a prayer going to Anfield. Charlie Adam and Luke Varney – a player who struggled to get into the Derby County first team no less – scored the goals to seal a famous victory for the Lancashire side and send all kinds of reverberations around Merseyside. The game also saw Fernando Torres limp off and one of the last things the scousers need right now is such in an important player confined to sitting on the stands.

Things surely can’t really get much worse but if they do, God help Roy Hodgson.

Speaking of Roy, recent weeks have seen murmurs of discontent at his stewardship steadily increase. I’ve always had respect for him and what he has done in his career. Not just because he seems to be one of the few ‘nice guys’ left in the game but because unlike some of his contemporaries, he actually went out and furthered his managerial education by actually taking charge of teams throughout Europe rather than sitting around blowing smoke up his own arse like certain other managers I could care to mention.

Sadly, despite his years of experience, the Liverpool job currently looks a stretch too far. Despite their relative lack of success, the hot seat at Anfield is still one of the most prestigious jobs in the English game and should require more on your CV regarding success in this country than merely saving Fulham from relegation and taking them to the Europa League final. Not to disregard these achievements but you must be mad, simple, drunk, high or all of the above if you think this will translate to successfully managing a team used to top four finishes and regular participation in the latter rounds of the Champions League.

Admittedly, the man Roy replaced had a disastrous final season with the reds and found his position untenable by the time he walked away from Merseyside with a considerable wedge of lovely compensation cash in his back pocket this summer. However, Rafa’s successes should not be forgotten. Rafa Benitez took the team to two Champions League finals (winning one), an FA Cup final (winning that) and was within a whisker of winning the Premier League in 2009. Getting rid of Rafa meant that it was essential to bring in someone better. The Liverpool fans would have hardly been jumping for joy at the appointment of Hodgson as he was most certainly NOT a better option than what was in place already. You have to wonder what the board were even thinking by bringing him in.

And so to the board. Unless you have had your eyes shut, your fingers in your ears, no reception on your iphone and been living under a rock, in a cave, in Bermondsey, South London, you will have been unable to avoid the tedious protests of Liverpool fans (including this embarrassment) against American owners George “Darth Vader” Gillett and Tom “Freddy Krugger” Hicks who have, in true dastardly fashion, crippled the club financially leaving them on the brink of disaster. Without going into too much detail, Liverpool FC have gone from football’s regal gentries to debt-ridden cash-strapped paupers (Despite somehow finding around 16 million quid down the back of the sofa to piss away on Christian Poulsen and Raul Meireles as well as the no doubt princely sum Joe Cole is receiving each week to repeatedly run into blind alleys...) and the fans are far from pleased. Somehow this is supposed to have affected on the field performances. Personally, I struggle to see how Glen Johnson’s inability to defend and Lucas even existing is somehow down to the owners but hey, I’m just an idiot who writes football blogs thinking people actually read them. Do the likes of Maxi Rodriguez or Ryan Babel even know who runs the club let alone care enough for it to affect how they play? This all just seems like a convenient excuse for continued poor performances to me.

In any instance, by the time you read this, new owners may be in place which means in a few weeks we’ll either be sat here wondering what the hell we were all worried about or Liverpool fans will find someone else to blame for their continued decline.

The upcoming Merseyside derby against an Everton side fresh off their first win of the season should be an interesting encounter.

The other big Super duper Sunday clash of titans encounter of Sunday was the anti-climactic and wholly predictable procession of Arsenal going to Stamford Bridge for their annual beating at the hands of Didier Drogba. Yes, in an event about as shocking as a deactivated electric chair in an abandoned prison, The Arsenal showed up, dominated possession, made a lot of passes, missed some chances and lost the game 2-0. This is hardly a one-off could be applied to any recent encounter between the two sides. It’s also worth mentioning that phenomenal statistic that Drogba has now scored 13 goals in 13 appearances against the gunners. Seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Unfortunately for Arsenal, they cannot feel hard done by and really would be unwise to try and take heart from a ‘good performance’. Wenger seems to have forgotten how to win or at the very least, forgotten that in these ‘big’ games, winning is more important than playing well and until someone jogs his memory, I’ll just be cutting and pasting this exact same paragraph following defeats against Chelsea, Man Utd and now maybe even Man City for the foreseeable future. Ray Wilkins readily admitted that Chelsea “weren’t pretty” on Sunday and why would they need to be when they get the required result? There’s more than one way to skin a cat and as the fans sang on Sunday, “That’s why they’re champions”.

Wenger may well point to injuries but you have to wonder if the outcome would have been any different even with Fabregas Vermaelen, van Persie et al. Lee Dixon pointed out on MOTD2 that in some 30 odd games against the ‘big two’ since Arsenal’s last league win 6 years ago, they have won less than a quarter of these. A damning statistic that Wenger would do well to think about before proclaiming his team to be some kind crusaders of ‘good’ football.

As an aside, I’d very much like to think the injury suffered by Alex late in the game was a result of the ferocity in which he hit that scorcher of a free kick for the second goal.

Chelsea’s only challenge at the minute seems to be unsurprisingly coming from Manchester. Interestingly enough, it’s the blues rather than the reds who are on Chelsea’s proverbial tail. United were involved in their fourth away draw of the season at Sunderland last weekend. This time around however, defensive frailties cannot be blamed as the match finished goalless. Having been out for so long, it’s easy to forget how important a player Rio Ferdinand actually is. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that his return this past week has seen United keep two successive clean sheets including one at the Estadio Mestalla in the Champions League last Tuesday against a Valencia side that currently tops La Liga ahead of Barcelona and Real Madrid. If Ferdinand can stay fit, United may well be able to go some way to providing some kind of challenge to stop Chelsea wrapping up the title before the clocks go back.

Part Two to follow...

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