ManCity 11/27/2011: Two Sides to the Coin

There are two ways to look at Liverpool’s 1-1 home draw with Manchester City on Sunday.

The first: We outplayed City and deserved the three points.

Which is impressive in its own right. Who would’ve thought that, but for a few nervy moments in the Liverpool backline, the man of the match would go to Joe Hart and not Pepe Reina? Who would’ve thought that the league leaders would be pegged back for so long in both halves?

In hindsight, if you’d have offered me a point before the match, I would’ve taken it with both hands. This was an inspired (and inspiring) performance from Kenny Dalglish’s men, and the only unfortunate thing was that Liverpool didn’t get an extra 10, 15 minutes to play.

For all of Liverpool’s attacking chances created and all the deserved credit that should go their way, not just for this particular game but for the season so far in general, we have to stand up and applaud the Red defence and midfield. Skrtel and Agger fully justified Kenny’s decision to keep Carragher on the bench with a commanding and dominating central defensive performance. Pepe Reina played the role of sweeper keeper to the highest level. Jose Enrique, barring an errant backpass, turned in a solid shift and was a major threat going forward. And the same has to be said for Glen Johnson, whose critics must have been silenced from a fantastic display at right-back. He’s always been good going forward, but he’s added defensive strength and heading ability as well.

And of course, Charlie Adam looks to be improving week by week, as his positioning, awareness and (surprisingly) running caused untold trouble in the attacking third. Alongside him was the outstanding Lucas Leiva – and even I believe that’s not a good enough word to describe his performance. A two-in-one package of midfield destroyer and attack instigator, Lucas is becoming a lynchpin of this Liverpool side.

In a mini-league amongst the Top Six, Liverpool would be right up there. An accomplished display at Stamford Bridge was followed by one of the highest order at Anfield against the possible champions-elect. Briefly looking at the statistics, this was probably City’s first league game this season in which they didn’t create over 10 shooting chances. To say that Liverpool’s was a fine defensive performance would be a vast understatement.

If it weren’t for Joe Hart’s excellence, Liverpool would’ve kept the three points at home and inflicted a first defeat on the Citizens.

And now on to the second interpretation: We outplayed City and deserved the three points.

More chances, more possession, and more men on the field against one of the supposed big boys. A dominant performance at home. Chances created, missed and saved by another in-form keeper. In short, this smelled like yet another Liverpool night.

In hindsight, if you’d have offered me a point before the match, I would’ve taken it with both hands. But the way things turned out, this was a game for Liverpool’s taking, especially after Mario Balotelli’s antics earned him a sending off. Of course, City still had the world-class Joe Hart to thank, but Liverpool experienced yet another profligate night.

For all of Liverpool’s fine defensive work and possession play, the fact remains that the rest of the men in Red continue to underperform. Anfield witnessed yet another anonymous showing from Stewart Downing – and for that matter, why does Jordan Henderson turn in better performances as a substitute? Suarez extended his recent run of less-than-exhilarating form, while Kuyt has yet to hit the target this season.

I suppose I should take lots of satisfaction from the fact that we can afford to be disappointed at not beating City after turning in such an accomplished performance. But holding still and keeping a point when they could have had none: City remain unbeaten and the strongest in the league, with good reason.

So, yes, in a mini-league amongst the Top Six, Liverpool would be right up there.

Unfortunately, this is a league of 20 teams, not 6. As much as we passed the City test with gliding colors (I wouldn’t say “flying” just yet), this, like our win at Stamford Bridge, only solidifies Liverpool’s reputation as underdog specialists.

A fantastic performance on the night, no doubt, but the real tests lie in December’s league game run: Fulham, QPR, Aston Villa, Wigan, Blackburn, Newcastle.

Chelsea 11/20/2011: Roll Back the Years

One might say that Kenny Dalglish embodies the Liverpool-Chelsea rivalry, given his end-of-season strike against the Blues as player-manager to bring home the league title back in 1989. It’s no coincidence that his 20 games against Chelsea as Liverpool manager have not brought a single defeat.

But this rivalry really exploded into fashion with the arrivals of Messieurs Benitez and Jose Mourinho in that fateful summer of 2004. Rafa might not have enjoyed much league success over Mourinho, but his Red underdogs always created a spectacle against Mou’s men in Europe.

No matter Chelsea’s recent form, a trip to Stamford Bridge is always daunting. Even if Andres Villas-Boas has so efficiently destroyed the once-impermeable “Fortress” tag applied so forcefully under Jose Mourinho’s tutelage, it is still home to one of the Premier League’s indisputable best teams. 

Sunday night’s 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge was a Kenny special, sprinkled with a touch of Rafa.

The Redmen, enjoying less possession and with fewer shots on target, came away with a last-gasp 2-1 win. With Lucas shielding the back four in a Mascherano terrier-like manner, and with Charlie Adam providing passing impetus from the midfield a la Xabi Alsono, Liverpool started with a formation so familiar to the Rafa era, with Kuyt restored to the right wing, and Bellamy and Maxi Rodriguez playing “between the lines.”

In an alternate universe, Raul Meireles, in the continued absence of Steven Gerrard, would have been playing in support of Fernando Torres. In this one, both were only granted second-half substitute appearances, and even then they didn’t look anything like the players that once graced the Anfield turf.

Instead, the familiar figure of Didier Drogba provided a bulldozing outlet up front for Chelsea as he managed to both confuddle an entire stadium with a well-struck freekick and to pose a physical threat to Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger. But just as the Rafa and Jose years have come and gone, so have Drogba’s finest days, and he was the embodiment of a frustrated Chelsea attack, alongside Florent Malouda, who didn’t take advantage of their opportunities.

That sounds suspiciously familiar to Kenny Dalglish, though. 

For a side that has been criminally wasting away their opportunities, Liverpool were surprisingly effective at the Bridge. Whether this was because the effervescent but profligate Luis Suarez was so well contained due to AVB’s tactics or because Maxi and Bellamy proved so adept at making incisive forward runs, we will never know. 

The fact remains that Liverpool are still fantastic underdogs. True to the Rafa years, this Pepe Reina-led Liverpool team conjured a defensively solid performance (except for Daniel Sturridge’s goal) and scored on the counter-attack. (Much deserved credit to both Maxi and Glen Johnson for the two wonderful goals.) 

But this was nothing new. Winning as underdogs has been a Liverpool staple for quite some time now. For Liverpool to get into the Champions League spots again, Kenny must find ways to inject some of the old Liverpool formula, the formula that he knew inside out: winning as favorites.

On Luis Suarez’s Racism Row

Let me cut straight to the chase.

I will assume that most readers of this piece will have been aware of the events that transpired between Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra during the Liverpool-Manchester United game last month. I will assume that you are also aware of the English FA’s subsequent decision to charge Suarez.

In the weeks that have passed after Evra first came out with his claims, and in the days that have crept by since the FA confirmed their charge, Liverpool fans have shown incredible support behind their No. 7, and indelible condemnation towards Evra.

And I’m here to denounce their blinkered support.

Before I give my reasons, let me first clarify my position. I’m not here to denounce Liverpool Football Club’s support. As with any case involving such sensitive matters, full evidence has to be gathered, and Kenny Dalglish and the Club have come out expressing their support for Suarez.

Stepping away from a feverish football-club “gladiatorial” mentality, an employer or a family member should always step up and provide full support to a person going through such trials and tribulations. Innocent until proven guilty. And I am confident that they will be strong with their public condemnation of racist behavior if Suarez is indeed found to be guilty in this case.

The same mentality applies to the fans. Liverpool have traditionally been famous for their family-oriented fanbase. Players, coaches and fans alike have all praised the welcoming community at Liverpool, and you don’t call the Merseyside Derby the “friendly derby” without any justification.

No, I’m not here to condemn the Club and the fans in getting behind Luis Suarez.

I’m here to denounce their blinkered support.

This blinkered support has seen Liverpool “fans” call Evra a “crybaby” and a “boy who cried wolf,” among others, just because he has raised a claim that he considers serious.

This blinkered support has seen Liverpool “fans” hang on to Suarez’s responses that Evra’s Manchester United teammates were even surprised with his reactions.

This blinkered support has seen Liverpool “fans” blindingly agree with Suarez’s claims that, in Uruguay, the alleged word spoken (“negrito”) has no racial allegations or discriminatory undertones.

But this is the same group of narrow-minded people who pointed fingers and made gestures towards Nani after his embarrassing “look at me!” episode against the referee in March and cried that Jamie Carragher wouldn’t have deserved a red card for his high tackle.

This is the same group of narrow-minded people who have been quick to condemn Chelsea’s John Terry after allegations of his racial abuse towards QPR’s Anton Ferdinand, even when Terry’s case is still under investigation. Terry will surely be the subject of boos from the Liverpool crowd during this Sunday’s matchup.

It’s double standards at its best. (Or should it be worst?)

As a Liverpool fan belonging to a minority race, I hope that Liverpool will cooperate fully with the investigations and continue to show the support that Suarez has received.

But only if he turns out to be innocent.

Now, I understand the high-stakes on-field pressure, and I also understand that, to get under the opponents’ skin, some players turn (in my opinion, stupidly) to derogatory name-calling. Given the social backgrounds of many players, an outright ban on stronger language and a huge tightening up of the rules and regulations would be an overreaction and unnecessary.

But if Suarez does turn out to be guilty of racially offensive language, I would support a reasonable match ban and hefty club fine. Even if the FA decide to use this as an “example,” it would send a much stronger message than the pathetic several-thousand-pound fines FIFA has leveraged on racist chants during international games.

And I sincerely hope that Liverpool fans, who have been known for their generous support, would be sensible enough to not afford him a heroic reception when he takes to the field after his ban.

Because a welcoming, family-oriented football club, a club that Liverpool pride themselves for being, would not tolerate this sort of behavior. Not even from a No. 7.

Original article from the Bleacher Report.