Don’t Say No Crouch No More, Rafa

25 10 2007

Pathetic! Utter Crap! Complete Bollocks! There are umpteen ways of describing Liverpool’s performance last night against Besiktas, all of them negative. Yesterday’s performance was worthy of a 3rd Division relegation scrap, not a do-or-die European night.

I should add that prior to watch this footballing fiasco I was already in somewhat foul mood, having hurriedly scarfed down a delayed biryani to watch an abysmal movie, The Contract, where the only real highlight was a minor and very, very brief T&A moment courtesy of Megan Dodds or her body double.

By the time I actually got down to watching the match (from the 25th minute onwards), Liverpool were already down by one, courtesy of yet another Sami Hyypia own goal (2 in 2 matches!!! Have the gods deserted us???), and I had to endure a few not-so-very-friendly messages from my brother and friends heckling MY team.

And whatever optimism I had of a dramatic Liverpool comeback, ala Olympiakos and Istanbul, evaporated within 5 minutes upon seeing schoolyard quality passing all around the pitch from Liverpool. Honestly, at times I wondered if Mascherano was colour-blind, for the number of times he passed the ball straight to a Besiktas player.

Fair play to Besiktas though. They came out with a plan, and executed it to perfection. But, let’s be realistic and remember that it was Besiktas. Liverpool had more than enough quality to overcome them, on paper. And yet, there was minimal creativity and most of the play in the attacking third was just trying to cross over the backline for one of the strikers to run onto. 9 out of 10 times, the ball ended up in the goalie’s hands.

I had 2 major issues with Liverpool’s attack on the night.
1. Predictability – There was absolutely no creativity in the attacking third. You knew exactly what Pennant and Babel were going to do, Pennant would go on the outside and cross it in, while Babel would invariably look to cut in and run on goal. What Liverpool miss from last season, and what they only got once Benayoun came on the pitch was the spark of creativity and unpredictability. This single quality was best embodied by Luis Garcia over the past few seasons. It was why he was such a successful European player. He had that ability to create something out of nothing, and turn the game on its head.

2. No Target Man – Kuyt and Voronin were both playing like second strikers, forgetting the fact that one of them should have been leading the line. There was no target man to get stuck into the defence, and knock the ball down into the path of the other players.

And this is where my biggest beef with Rafa comes in. Why did he wait until the 80th minute and AFTER Besiktas had scored their second before bringing on Crouch? Crouch proved his value immediately because his second touch of the ball had Besiktas floundering and created the opening for Gerrard to score Liverpool’s consolation. Surely with more game time he could have created many more opportunities for others, simply by being a ball winner and targetman in the Besiktas penalty area.

The stats at the end of the game read Liverpool 28 shots on goal and 1 goal. Reading that shows you why Liverpool struggle for goals, and underlines the importance of having a Torres or a Crouch along with a Kuyt or Voronin. Kuyt and Voronin are too similar for my liking to be an effective partnership. You can’t have two similar strikers playing at the same time if they’re both trying to do the same thing. You need to have a someone to target inside the box to take or create the chances. Of those 28 “shots” on goal, I think more than half were attempted through balls over the defence that ran into the goalie’s hands. The trouble was that both Kuyt and Voronin were behind the ball when the pass was made, or the one’s doing the passing with the other one 2 feet away. Where’s the target? Why try those passes when your target is right next to you? You would think that they would try something different after the first 5-8 failed passes like that. Talk about flogging a dead horse.

Whatever his failings, Crouch does create problems for defences, especially inside the penalty box. His 6ft 7inch frame attracts defenders to him simply because they know that he can hit the target if he’s left alone. In moving to defend against him, more spaces open up for other players to exploit. It’s a tactic that served Liverpool very well last season, and in doing so Crouch did score over 15 goals. So why change it now?

Now unless Rafa took exception to Crouch’s statement that were it not for football he’d have still been a virgin (you need to scroll down a bit on that page), I fail to see why he keeps leaving him out. Someone who’s scored over 15 goals in a season is not a person you leave out on a whim. Now, either Rafa has short-term memory when it comes Crouch and the team sheet, or there’s some internal machinations going on (maybe Mrs. Benitez let slip that she fancies Crouch a bit, knobby knees and all???).

But whatever the reason, Rafa better wake up soon. Please Rafa. Don’t say “No Crouch” no more.


The Easiest Goal Ever Missed

4 06 2007

My brother just sent me this video. Words fail to describe just how stupid this guy is. He didn’t even have to touch the ball. It was going in anyway. Any kind of mishit would have only helped the ball along. Instead, the guy does the one thing short of stopping the ball that could deny the goal. And he did so well until the finish. Take a look and marvel at just how the impossible it was to miss that goal. It just proves nothing is impossible.

Sour Grapes Leave A Bad Aftertaste

15 05 2007

Reading the comments made by Neil Warnock after Sheffield United got relegated, I couldn’t help but wonder why hadn’t the guys in the white coats and the straitjackets taken him away yet??? Sure you’re entitled to moan a bit about how some decisions didn’t go your way, but complaining that you got relegated because other teams didn’t field the right team is nuts. If you’re lost on what I’m talking about, go here for the details.

I’m sorry Neil, but you should have paid more attention to your own team rather than bothering about what other managers are upto with theirs. If your team had performed better then you won’t bescrambling for pathetic excuses on why you got relegated. You had 38 games in the season to try and get around 40 points. You just needed 1 more win to stay up. Why couldn’t you manage that? At the end of the day, you got relegated because Wigan had more desire than you guys to win and stay up. You and your team failed to convert at least 1 draw into a win, or 3 losses into a draw. Actually, why couldn’t you just convert 1 loss into a draw. That’s all you really needed in the end.

You can try and avoid the truth saying the refs were biased, other managers were out to get you, the grass was greener on the other side, the dogs were shitting in your karmic universe upsetting your mental balance, anything you like. It just goes to show that you’re a really poor loser who can’t accept that the responsibility of being a relegated manager. Paul Jewell showed great character before the last game by stating, [i’m paraphrasing] “No matter what the circumstances, we’re in this position because of what we did or didn’t do on the football pitch.” That’s the kind of humility and down-to-earth attitude that makes you really respect and admire the guy. ‘Course it could be cause he’s a Scouser. But, all Warnock has shown is that he has no character to speak of. None whatsoever.

It’s not good pointing the finger at Man U or Liverpool for putting out “weaker” teams. They have their priorities and, FYI, you’re not anywhere on the list. It’s absurd expecting your competition to gratify your desires, especially when its a league as lucrative as the Premiership. What’s the point of a competition if people seriously expect others to heed and actually accede to a statement like, “Hmmmm! I wish all the other teams would lose so that I can win the title!” Seriously, you’d think that people would have more respect for their peers. I still can’t digest that he’s attacked his fellow managers as though they had a personal grudge against him. Come on. By the same boat, does it mean that Rafa Benitez is entitled to turn around and question why Warnock and other managers didn’t field sides competent enough to beat Chelsea and Man U so that Liverpool could win the title? He doesn’t because he understands that the destiny of any team is solely determined by their own performance on the pitch, not by whining about what could have been if other teams had done this, or done that. That’s football mate. If you haven’t realized that by now, what the hell are you doing as a manager?

It’s down-right bloody ridiculous. Not to mention patently insane. Neil Warnock is possibly the biggest jackass in football at the moment. Until I read this, I really felt sorry for Sheffield that West Ham got away without any points deduction for Tevez-gate. But now I truly hope that the ruling is upheld and that West Ham stay up and Sheffield don’t get reinstated back to the Premiership. After the way he’s reacted, Neil Warnock doesn’t deserve to be in top flight. We can do without his sort, thank you very much.

Yes, I’m mad because he fingered Rafa and Liverpool directly. But I’m even more angry that he accused Rafa and Alex Ferguson of conspiring to relegate the Blades. Puhleeeeze. They both have more important things to focus on than you, Neil. Grow up!

Thinkering Towards Athens!

15 05 2007

Well its the end of another semi-successful season at Anfield. We finished third and secured another year of Champions League Football next year. And we still have the Champions League Final in less than 10 days at Athens against Milan, a repeat of our Istanbul exploits for 2 years back.

Looking forward to next week, I have to wonder realistically if the Reds have a chance against a side the demolished Man U in the semis a couple of weeks back. Going by the performance against Charlton, you really have to question whether the Reds can bring home Ol’ Big Ears for the sixth time. Things like Istanbul usually happen only once. Lightning does strike twice sometimes, but you can’t bank on it.

Still, one thing that struck me as I watched the Charlton game was how uncreative our attack was. Only when Kewell came on did we actually get creative in the forward third. And even then, it was all on the wings. The Reds don’t seem to be able to press through the middle, which was how they got back at Milan 2 years back. The usual drill these days seems to be if there’s nothing on the wings, punt it up and see what happens. It’s ok once in a while but not for 90 minutes.

In a game as big as this, I don’t think we will falter defensively [IMHO Carra wont allow it, not after the way Istanbul started], but clean sheets never won a cup final. Only scoring more goals than the opposition counts. And that’s my biggest concern. Where will the goals come from? Between Crouch, Kuyt, and Bellamy (if he plays) and on current form, I can’t really see where the goals can be created. Crouch is the best target man only because he’s 6’17” or something like that, and he seems to have learnt how to head a ball for a goal. Kuyt’s workrate is phenomenal but his touch could use some work. And Bellamy. Well, it depends on whether he decides to show up. If he’s the Bellamy that showed up against Barca then fantastic. Otherwise, you have to wonder how he’ll contribute. He can disappear from games at an alarming speed, often never to return.

The trouble with ‘Pool is that we’re a bit too dependent on goals from our midfielders. Plus, our wingers don’t really score enough. Guys like Pennant, Riise, Zenden, Gonzalez need to chip in with more goals. But, keeping all that in mind, there is still some good news. Looking at the 2nd leg of the Milan – Man U match, the key weakness of Milan’s defence seems to be speed and width. Whenever they’ve been stretched and the ball switched across flanks, spaces open up on either flank, and channels in the middle. And the backline of Oddo, Nesta, Maldini, Kaladhze/Jankulovski isn’t what you’d call pacy. But more than attacking alone, Liverpool also have to work on containing Milan’s offence. Seedorf and Kaka are key. Take them out of the game and you’re a good step towards neutralizing Milan. Pirlo is a threat to but he sits a little deeper and needs Kaka and Seedorf to create space. Exploit the wings with pace, shutdown Milan’s midfield and have at least 2 target men in the box for crosses. Of course, that’s always the plan in theory.

I have two theories on how Rafa can approach this game:
1. 4-4-1-1: What I’d like to see for this lineup is a targetman, 2 good wingers, and an attacking midfielder in the hole to exploit and roam. Then 2 holding midfielders to take care of Kaka and Seedorf. The full backs can move up to help the attack, and the central defenders can sit with the holding midfielders to contain the Milan attack. So my line-up for this scenario would be:

Goalie: Reina
Defenders: Arbeloa/Finnan (RB), Carra, Agger, Riise/Arbeloa (LB)
Midfielders: Pennant (RW), Mascherano, Alonso, Zenden/Riise (LW)
Attack: Crouch, Gerrard (Hole)
Bench: Kuyt, Dudek, Bellamy, Gonzalez, Finnan/Zenden, Hyypia, Sissoko/Kewell

2. 4-4-2: For this it’d be a counter-attacking setup. So you need strength and speed upfront, and a quick box-to-box midfield. In this case, I’d have to switch between Mascherano and Gerrard, and bring on Bellamy and Kuyt instead of Crouch. The advantage is that both Kuyt and Bellamy like to work the backlines and can move the balls quickly to the wings, for the midfield to ramp in. The trouble is though that the primary goal threat is from midfielders who are usually outside the box. So the lineup for this would be:

Goalie: Reina
Defenders: Arbeloa/Finnan (RB), Carra, Agger, Riise/Arbeloa (LB)
Midfielders: Pennant/Gerrard (RW), Gerrard, Alonso, Zenden/Riise (LW)
Attack: Kuyt, Bellamy
Bench: Mascherano, Dudek, Crouch, Gonzalez, Finnan/Zenden, Hyypia, Sissoko/Kewell

I have a feeling that Rafa will not start with Kewell due to his lack of match fitness but will bring him on later in the game. He was brilliant against Charlton so Rafa would be mad to leave him out of the game completely. I presume Zenden will be handed a starting berth on the left if Riise is left back. Of the two tactics, I think the first has a better balance since we can pack the midfield and stifle Milan, and at the same time have more options in the box. We don’t seem able to create many openings through the middle. So, it might be better to play to our strengths and exploit the wings more, rather than try to do something that hasn’t worked recently.

Whatever my speculation, Rafa has his own mercurial thinking which has never failed us when it comes to crunch situations so far. And I have faith that he’ll have Ancelotti’s number again. Incidently, number 6 will tie us with Milan as the second most successful team in Europe’s premier knockout cup competition after Real Madrid with 9 titles.

Better make space in the trophy cabinet boys! Ol’ Big Ears is coming home to the Kop! YNWA!

The Frisk Effect Once Again!!!

2 05 2007

I’m writing this as I’m waiting for penalties in the Liverpool-Chelsea semi-final of the Champion’s League. Why am I writing it now instead of after the match??? Cause irrespective of what the outcome of this game is, this game was blown by the referees. It should never have come to penalties. Liverpool should have won 2-0 on the night in extra-time, no ifs, ands or buts. Dirk Kuyt scored a perfectly legitimate goal and the only reason we’re not booking the tickets to Athens at the moment is because the linesman was out of place and made a call based on the rebound, not when the initial shot was scored.

I consider myself a true Red. I have been since I was 4. But this is not just some partisan rant that we otherwise indulge in. In this case, it was a clear goal. The replays prove that he was in line with the last defender and onside. Hang on, penalties are starting. I’ll finish the post after this. My tone might change based on what happens, but not my message. Finger’s crossed.

Hahahahah Benitez is sitting cross-legged on the grass. I don’t think he can stand the tension. 2-0 Reds! Come on!!!



[long pause. make that a very long pause.]

Sorry folks! You have no idea how much this means to me! Ok back to my story… [phew!!!]

If you look at the replays, when Alonso strikes the ball Kuyt’s in line with the Chelsea backline, the only difference being that he’s facing goal and the Chelsea defenders are looking the other way. By the time Cech has dived to his left to save Alonso’s initial shot, Kuyt is already inside the penalty box near the 6 yard box when the rebound gets to him. He coolly slots it away and wheels away to the crowd away from the linesman in celebration, only then turning around to see that its been disallowed for offside.

There is no way its offside. No matter how you look at it. The only way you could disallow that was if you didn’t see it, in which case you’re ill-equiped to dispute it. The rule says that if two players are inline with each other its legal. If a player scores on a rebound from a seemingly offside position, but was onside when the initial shot was hit, then its a valid goal.

This is another example of the weakness of referees to make big calls. I’ve raised this point in an earlier article, The Frisk Effect. Sure, he can claim that he was intimidated by the Anfield atmosphere, but if you’re officiating in such a big match, there is no way you should allow yourself to be played like this. Even Pierluigi Colina [possibly the best referee in modern football history] said it was a goal. And he was in the VIP boxes about 20 rows up!!! If he gave the offside because he saw Kuyt one-on-one with Cech, then he’s inept. If he gave it because he thought Kuyt was offside when Alonso struck the ball first-time, then he’s blind. I for one find it inexcusable. Yes, its football. And it’s my perogative as a fan to rant about bad refereeing.

But what made me mad was that there seemed be quite a bit of questionable refereeing throughout both legs. For instance, Drogba deserved a yellow card in the previous leg for diving. If it had been given, he would have missed this leg, and the tie would have taken on a different complexion. But because “the Special One” made an issue of it saying that ‘Pool would target Drogba to make him commit a foul, the refs decided for some reason to be lenient. Similar things happened today.

Tying this into the previous Frisk Effect article, my whole contention there was the referee made a decision that was the easier of 2 choices to make. In that case, Lusi Garcia scored a goal that initially looked to be questionable. From the viewpoint of the linesman, 3 Chelsea players were in the way. Yet he still gave that goal. I suspect it was because if hadn’t, he had to give a penalty to Liverpool for fouling Milan Baros and sending off Cech for a professional foul. Liverpool most probably would have scored and Chelsea would have been down to 10 men for over 85 minutes of the match. In the context of the game, he might have reasoned that Chelsea can maybe claw back in the remaining 86 minutes if they have all their men.

Yes, today video evidence has proved it to be a goal, but in the split second that it happened I’m not so sure how you can make that call. Without the video evidence, you had to be lucky to make that call. I still feel that it was the easier decision to give the goal rather than award a penalty and send off Cech. Yes, it went Liverpool’s way but it still leaves a sour taste when someone says “it wasn’t a goal you know!”… The only difference today is that the split second was clear enough to show that he Kuyt was onside. I think the ref made a decision to not antagonize a team like Chelsea.

Still, justice has prevailed in the end, and again we’ve beaten Chelsea in semi-finals [this is 3rd time in 3 years] and we’re to meet either Man U or AC Milan in Athens on the 23rd of May. I’m not sure which I’d prefer. I don’t think I could survive a repeat of the final with AC Milan from 2 years back [even though we won], and at the same time Man U are another English team who know us well. At least Milan can be contained as they play at a slower pace [this time we should be able to do this]. But as a good friend of mine is a Red Devil, it would be extra sweet to rub number 6 in his face. Ahhh decisions, decisions! We’ll know tomorrow who’s the unlucky victim.


[Crud! It costs Rs.62,000 for a 5 day round-trip ticket to Athens! Its not fair!!!]

The Frisk Effect – Part 1

19 03 2007

Note: I wrote this article about 2 years back just after watching Liverpool beat Chelsea on route to Istanbul… Oh what a game Istanbul was… anyways, I’m reviving this article as I want to use this to launch a series of tirades on the standard of refs in football, and how to fix it. Looking back, its not half bad 🙂 [yes i did clean this up a bit… so sue me… on second thought…]

Date: May 4th, 2005
Time: Sometime after 3AM in India
Anfield. The 2nd leg of the Champions League Semi-Final between Chelsea and Liverpool. 4 minutes into the game, Baros manages to break through the Chelsea backline, and is taken down by Cech, after getting the ball around the Chelski keeper. The ball is loose, and Garcia pounces, and directs the ball goalwards. Gallas tries to clear the ball off the line. But, the multi-million pound question is, “DID THE BALL CROSS THE LINE?”

In such a big game, the referee and his assistants are on the spot from the start. And yet, they have to be able to make the right decisions in a split second. Whatever the consequences down the line. In this case, the assistant referee on the far touchline deemed it goal, and Liverpool went up 1-0, and went on to win the tie by the same scoreline.

But let us revisit the moment a little more deeply. Baros was brought down by Cech. That much was obvious. The implications were that had the goal not been given and a penalty awarded, Cech would have been red carded for a professional foul, and Chelsea forced to play with 10 men for the remaining 84 minutes of normal time, and having to sacrifice one of the outfield players for their reserve keeper. Just imagine the scenario then. Odds are that Liverpool would have converted the resultant penalty, and have gone up 1-0 anyway. And they would have been in a MUCH stronger position for the rest of the match, with Chelsea having to attack as well as compensate for the player sent off.

Being a lifelong Liverpool fan, I would have taken the goal whichever way it came. But, I must admit that I have my doubts as to whether the ball did cross the line. Quite honestly, I would have accepted it better had the ref not given the goal, but pointed to the penalty spot. That way, we would have won, with a more clear cut decision, and not having to hear Jose spouting nonsense about the better team losing, and the dubious decision of the ref.

For quite honestly, I found the refereeing to be quite biased against Liverpool. Case in point is the yellow card given to Baros for the tackle on Carvalho. Granted it was a late challenge but it was a first offence. But no, out came the card. At the same time, over the course of the game, Carvalho was adjudged to have committed more than 7 fouls of equal intensity, and yet was not even warned, let alone booked, for his troubles. To me, that just smacks of a bias.

What really took the cake was the 6 minutes of injury time. Even with the stoppages, it came to a max of 4 minutes, as there were no major stoppages during play, but for the nutjob who ran into the goal, only to be dragged off the pitch by the stewards. How could they possibly justify the 6 added minutes?

Overall, it was a clean game, although it did get a little nasty towards the end. The ref did keep the game flowing, but then again he wasn’t really called into play that often. And yet on those occasions when a firm decision was needed, he tended to opt for the easy way out. How is giving a goal the easy way out, you may ask?

In the aftermath of the Frisk affair, and the (possible?) reaction of Chelski fans, most referees I think having a nagging fear of giving decisions against Chelsea. Of course their manager is of no help, fanning the flames and somewhat subtly implying that all referees who don’t favor Chelsea, are either bad, frauds, or both.

Getting back to how giving a dubious goal is an easy way out, I agree that this doesn’t hold water considering the controversy that has been stirred up by awarding the goal. But in this case, I think the referees would have been nervous of not only giving a penalty, which almost certainly would have led to a goal, but also sending off Cech, one of the heroes of the season for the Blues. It might simply be the referee being too cautious of adding insult to injury by not only giving a penalty, but reducing Chelsea to 10-men as well.

I most certainly would not want to be in the shoes of the guy who has to make that decision. Because I would not want to be the fall guy for why Chelsea didn’t win the Champions League. Which I am sure would have been Jose’s excuse in that case.

At the end of it all, I believe Liverpool deserved the win as they played a more composed and tactically sound game over the 2 legs. Lady luck did smile on us when Lampard in the first leg, and Gudjohnsen in the 2nd, missed from inside the 6 yard box.

But I believe UEFA needs to rein in the clubs from being able to exert too much pressure on referees through mind games to influence decisions in their favor. The referees need to be protected and backed strongly to be able to make firm decisions, and not fall prey to the machinations of any club(s). Chelsea have demonstrated that if nothing else in this year’s Champion’s League.

Good on you Reds. Remember, even in Istanbul, You’ll Never Walk Alone.