Liverpool 4-0 Tottenham Hotspur: 6 Things We Learned from Anfield Rout

A Younes Kaboul own goal and goals from Luis Suarez, Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson handed Liverpool an impressive 4-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield on Sunday, which saw the Reds climb back to the top of the Premier League once again.

Another flying start by Brendan Rodgers’ side saw Raheem Sterling combine well with Glen Johnson down the Liverpool right, forcing Kaboul to turn the ball into his own net. Suarez’s excellent left-footed finish after putting Michael Dawson under pressure deservedly doubled the Reds’ lead on 25 minutes.

Coutinho’s excellent low drive from range further extended the hosts’ dominance on 55 minutes, before Henderson’s free kick from the left flank evaded everyone in the Spurs box and sealed another Liverpool rout over Tottenham, following their five-goal demolition job at White Hart Lane back in December.

Here are six things we learned from Liverpool’s excellent win. Enjoy, and let us know your thoughts below.

 

Impressive Rearguard Action by the Reds

Impressive Rearguard Action by the Reds

Jon Super

Take your pick from two well-worn cliches in the sports world: “The best defence is offence” or “Defence wins championships.”

Whichever your preference—and while Sunday’s result by no means confirmed anything in terms of the Premier League title race just yet—Liverpool showed both offensive drive and defensive steel against Tottenham, much like the reverse fixture in December.

Jon Flanagan bounced back from a quiet couple of weeks with a performance full of heart, commitment and excellently timed tackles, while Glen Johnson put in an admirable defensive shift, albeit against a toothless Spurs left.

Simon Mignolet was on hand to make a few crucial but routine stops—including an excellent left-handed parry of Christian Eriksen’s deflected shot in the dying minutes—to keep what was a rare clean sheet for Liverpool this season.

Martin Skrtel had one of his almost flawless performances featuring a few blockbuster last-ditch blocks. Even Daniel Agger, normally in the “cool, calm and collected” school of defending, saw fit to put in a few flying blocks of his own.

The clean defensive performance, which was admittedly due to a disappointing Spurs display, will be one of the key points stressed by Brendan Rodgers to replicate in the end-of-season run-in.

 

Liverpool Might Just Have the Best Right Flank in the Premier League

Liverpool Might Just Have the Best Right Flank in the Premier League

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

But enough about the defence: Besides keeping a second successive clean sheet against Tottenham this season, Liverpool have again hit four goals with no reply in the Premier League this season, making it 11 matches this season where they have scored at least four goals.

Even more encouraging for both Rodgers and Liverpool fans alike will be Glen Johnson’s return to fitness—and, it seems, to a level almost touching his flying best. It was Johnson’s run behind the Spurs defence that led to Liverpool’s early opening goal and one that fully illustrated his valuable contributions to the Reds attack.

And in reverting to his tried and trusted 4-3-3, Brendan Rodgers started Raheem Sterling on the right, which paid dividends both in the final third and also on the defensive end. The young winger, who by now must surely be on the plane to Brazil this summer, was a constant menace to the Tottenham defence, while a physical duel with Mousa Dembele before his substitution—which he won—was a sign of his growing confidence and maturity.

Johnson’s dovetailing with Sterling down the right made it once again Liverpool’s preferred attacking outlet, even while the hapless Kyle Naughton started as right-back on the opposite side of the pitch.

Pablo Zabaleta and Seamus Coleman, step aside—if Johnson and Sterling keep up their performances on both ends of the pitch, they’ll comfortably win any award for the Premier League’s best right flank.

 

Familiarity Breeds Success

Familiarity Breeds Success

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

When Mamadou Sakho’s return from injury was announced, Liverpool fans would’ve been forgiven for wanting him to go straight back into the starting XI, with Daniel Agger not being at his domineering best this season.

When Lucas made a first-team comeback as well, many wanted him to return as the midfield anchor, releasing Steven Gerrard of his holding and controlling duties at the base of the Reds midfield and allowing the captain to push further up the park.

Instead, Rodgers has chosen to stick by and large with a starting lineup that has served him so well, if not entirely in defensive solidity then at least in results, only sacrificing Joe Allen for Sterling.

Besides the Allen/Sterling change, this was the same lineup that started Liverpool’s previous few victories, allowing them to have built up a winning momentum and a growing sense of confidence, which was increasingly apparent as the match wore on.

In sticking with a winning team, despite having other strong contenders on the bench, Rodgers has gone with familiarity, both as a sign of his confidence in his team and as a reward to those players who have served him well amidst the previous injury problems.

 

Tactical Flexibility Now a Liverpool Hallmark

Tactical Flexibility Now a Liverpool Hallmark

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

It was the Allen/Sterling change, though, that reflected a return to the 4-3-3 formation that had been used to such excellent effect at times this season. (Lest we forget, the 4-4-2 diamond was, of course, a formation ushered in partly out of desperation.)

Liverpool played like they’d never even thought about veering away from their original 4-3-3, such was the fluency in their build-up and possession play, while Coutinho once again impressed as the most advanced member of the midfield trio.

Not that they played the entire match as a 4-3-3, though: Rodgers’ two substitutions between the 64th and 70th minutes meant that Allen and Lucas did come on to replace Coutinho and Gerrard, and Sterling was pushed back into the middle to revert to the 4-4-2 diamond.

In doing so, the home side displayed yet another trait it’s developed this season: a tactical flexibility that has allowed it to approach different opponents in different ways.

The Liverpool players have become so comfortable with each other and with Rodgers’ possession-based attacking philosophy that they’ve taken every formation change almost like a duck to water, and this can only bode well for the rest of their title-chasing season.

And it paid off spectacularly.

 

Tottenham Hotspur Are Stuck in Limbo

Tottenham Hotspur Are Stuck in Limbo

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Spare a thought for Tottenham Hotspur, as not only did their players not seem to have a game plan in mind, but their head coach also seemed to have lost his fiery passion for which he’s been so famous.

A 60th-minute double substitution aside, Tim Sherwood didn’t appear to take any initiative to improve his side’s fortunes, and he cut a lone figure in the Spurs director’s box as the match wilted away from a Tottenham point of view.

According to BBC Sport, Netherlands manager Louis van Gaal is reportedly on his way to White Hart Lane as Spurs’ new manager after this summer’s World Cup. Judging from Sherwood’s demeanor, he might well feel like a dead man walking, with his opportunity to impress at the Spurs helm limited in the end to less than a full season.

In the meantime, however, a host of Tottenham players have been frozen out—the likes of Sandro, Mousa Dembele and Paulinho have been left out in favor of the youngster Nabil Bentaleb—and the lack of cohesion on the Anfield pitch on Sunday will have made for some jarring watching for Spurs fans.

Having spent in excess of £100 million in the wake of Gareth Bale’s departure, Tottenham were supposed to mount at least a strong challenge for fourth. Instead, they’ve lost all their league matches against the Premier League top four this season (barring a home draw against Chelsea in late September) and their season is well and truly unraveling.

Plenty of work to be done in the summer.

 

It’s All in Liverpool’s Hands Now

It’s All in Liverpool’s Hands Now

Jon Super

By notching their 22nd win of the Premier League season, Liverpool return to the top of the table in emphatic fashion, two points above Chelsea after the Blues’ shocking loss at Crystal Palace on Saturday.

While Manchester City have two games in hand and would yet reclaim the top spot with two wins out of two, the reality remains that Liverpool’s fortunes for the season are entirely in their own hands now.

From this point forward, if the Reds win all six of the remaining fixtures on their schedule, they will be crowned Premier League champions since both Chelsea and City have yet to visit Anfield.

For the first time in many a season, Liverpool only have themselves to worry about, without having to hope for rivals dropping points before they can look to capitalize.

Brendan Rodgers will know that this is a key advantage for his team in the run-in, but as usual, he will be stressing the need to keep calm and focus on the next game.

Bring on West Ham United.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

The True Financial Cost of Manchester United Missing out on the Champions League

The gulf in class on the Old Trafford pitch was evident on Tuesday night as Manchester United succumbed to another 3-0 home defeat to a major rival, but David Moyes added more insult to injury as he claimed that Manchester City’s standard and level were something to “aspire” to, per Sky Sports.

For Red Devils fans, who had been used to seeing years of Premier League dominance and a true winning dynasty under Sir Alex Ferguson, this statement—that United were now, suddenly, looking up to their “noisy neighbours”—will have irked, much more than their overall lethargic play has already this season.

It hurts, not just because it was United’s sixth home defeat in the league this season—their most ever in the Premier League—but also because a glance away from the scoreboard and at the league table shows just how far they’ve fallen from their supreme title-winning season last year.

As we approach the final weeks of the 2013-14 Premier League season, Manchester United are left staring up rather than down, contemplating what exactly a failure to qualify for next year’s Champions League—and they are on the brink—would mean to the future of the club.

But what exactly would it mean? Here’s a brief study on the true financial cost of Manchester United missing out on the Champions League—and it doesn’t look too rosy.

 

Alex Livesey/Getty ImagesPremier League Payouts

Qualifying for the Champions League requires a minimum of a fourth-placed finish in the Premier League, so let’s go from there.

It’s a well-known fact that the Premier League provides payments to its competing clubs at the end of every season—and it’s because of the league’s astonishing financial successes that those in England’s top tier receive huge amounts of revenue from television rights and so on.

While we won’t know the exact payouts each club receives for the season until late May, after the season will have officially finished, our benchmark will be from last season, where the fourth- and fifth-placed clubs were Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur respectively.

For their efforts last season, Arsenal received a total end-of-season payment of £57.1 million, £12.8 million of which were “merit payments” from the Premier League based on position, according to the league’s official announcement. Spurs, on the other hand, received £55.9 million and £12.1 million in merit payments.

It’s easy to calculate the difference just in merit payments as a reflection on the gap between the fourth- and fifth-placed Premier League clubs, but the other components of the payout—the “facility fees,” given each time a club’s matches are shown on TV in the UK, and “overseas TV” costs—are also tied intricately into their performances in the league and in European competition.

So the difference in overall payments is likely a more reliable indicator on the gap. In this case, it’s £1.2 million.

Not too significant as a lump sum, but when it comes to Manchester United, the fact that they were so successful in the league last season means that the hurt will be inevitable—and more considerable.

United finished the season as runaway champions, netting a league-high £60.8 million in payouts, which is a full £4.9 million difference from Tottenham’s eventual payout. And it doesn’t stop there: United’s current seventh place was where arch-rivals Liverpoolfinished last year, and the Merseysiders received £54.8 million.

If the Red Devils drop from first place and finish seventh come May, they will have missed out on at least £6 million just in league payouts—and we haven’t even adjusted for the inevitable league-wide increase yet.

 

Laurence Griffiths/Getty ImagesChampions League Payouts

Then there are the official payouts from the Champions League, which, if United do miss out on the competition itself, they will naturally not be entitled to next season.

For all their domestic woes this season, United’s run to the quarter-finals this season has by and large been smooth, barring a first-leg shock against Olympiakos in the round of 16. Their easy win of Group A was secured on the back of four wins, two draws and no losses—but this is also why an exit from Europe’s elite cup competition will hurt all the more.

According to the official UEFA website, the Champions League paid a minimum base fee of €8.6 million to each participant in the group stage last season.

An additional €1 million was awarded for each win and €500,000 for each draw, meaning that on their group stage form this season, United netted at least €13.6 million just from the group stage alone.

All clubs competing in the round of 16 received a €3.5 million payout, whereas each quarter-finalist received €3.9 million each.

Added on to the group stage payments, that’s at least a €21 million total that they will earn from this season’s Champions League run—and, again, that’s not adjusted for the inevitable competition-wide increase yet.

And who knows—if David Moyes manages to mastermind a famous victory over two legs against the fearsome and record-breaking Bayern Munich of Pep Guardiola, there could be further payments yet.

Translated into pound sterling, the Champions League prize money from this season is at least £17.5 million (and counting), which puts the total opportunity cost at £23.5 million.

Just exactly the amount Marouane Fellaini would’ve cost last summer—if Moyes submitted his bid before the Belgian’s release clause expired on July 31, 2013, according to BBC Sport.

 

Paul Gilham/Getty ImagesThe Intangibles

If only the cost of missing out on the Champions League was just £23.5 million.

Just ask Liverpool, perennial arch-rivals to Manchester United, who slipped into several years of mediocrity—including a couple through financial difficulty—after finishing seventh in what turned out to be Rafael Benitez’s last season at Anfield.

Whether it was down to the personal draw of the managers that succeeded Benitez, or due to the lack of top-quality competition that Liverpool were to be involved in, we may never know, but the truth remains that Liverpool’s signings since that exhilarating title challenge in the 2008-09 season had dropped down several notches—and only resurfaced in the past year or so.

In many ways, Manchester United’s current situation and Liverpool’s back then are similar, especially since both clubs are two of the most prestigious in England (and the world), two of the most historically successful and two built on pride and tradition more so than pure financial muscle.

To lose out on what has traditionally been a key part of the United brand—namely their winning tradition and stature in Europe—would be a huge blow to Manchester United’s appeal to prospective players.

David Moyes stressed in January that “the amount of big players wanting to join United is incredible. It’s because of the club and what it stands for in world terms. Players are not looking at the share price. They are looking at the football club,” per ESPN FC.

A Manchester United without the Champions League simply does not provide the same attraction and a scan at Liverpool’s reported missed signings over the years is testament to that.

Far more than the £23.5 million base loss, which less than half a season under the terms of their kit deal extension with Nike can already recuperate, via the Mirror, this might well be the true cost to Manchester United missing out on the Champions League.

Unless, of course, they change tack and throw their financial weight in to compensate for the lack of European competition, in which case the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain become their main competitors.

And they’ve all got Champions League football.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

How Much Is Liverpool Forward Luis Suarez Worth Based on Form in 2014?

Nine matches to go in the 2013/14 Premier League campaign, and Liverpool are still on course for a top-four finish, which would see them return to the Champions League next season—and still in with a shout for the league title outright.

None of this would be possible without the contributions of Luis Suarez, who, despite all the proclamations of the Reds being a dynamic and interchanging team these days, remains one of their most important players.

After 25 goals and 10 assists—making him the leader of both charts in the Premier League—in 24 matches and a contract signed in December, Suarez has once again proven himself as indispensable and invaluable to the Anfield club.

Perhaps even more so than in previous campaign.

Back in December, we embarked on a challenging but interesting attempt to calculate Suarez’s worth in the transfer market then.

In light of Liverpool’s recently released financial results for the 2012-2013 financial year, let’s revisit this subject and try to work out how much Luis Suarez is now worth based on his current form—without any kind of insider access to the boardroom.

 

Transfer Fee and Wage Estimates

To get us started off, let’s return to our estimates in December regarding Luis Suarez’s transfer fee.

Assuming a basic financial amortization of his initial £22.7 million transfer fee (per BBC Sport) over the course of five-and-a-half years, which was the initial length of his contract signed in 2011, we arrive at an approximate annual cost of £4.13 million.

For the purposes of simpler calculation, let’s consider Suarez has been at Liverpool for 3.2 years, which means the as yet “unpaid” total amortization cost would be updated to £4.13 multiplied by 2.3, or £9.5 million.

Onto his wages, which we will only discuss in the present and future tenses, after his December extension.

Our wage calculations following his new contract in December 2013 are based on this BBC Sport article that claims Suarez is earning £160,000 a week until the end of the current season, and then £200,000 a week for the next four years. Simple arithmetic gets us to a total of £43.06 million over the rest of his new contract.

Our baseline estimated value of Luis Suarez, from just his transfer fee and wages, is thus £9.5 million plus £43.06 million, which gives us £52.56 million.

 

Possible Champions League Qualification

As it stands, Liverpool are placed second in the Premier League, and they look in ominous form as they approach the final couple of months of the season.

Our key underlying assumption is that the Reds will indeed finish in the top four, qualifying for Champions League football next term, which should also be the assumption behind Luis Suarez staying at Anfield in the first place.

Champions League qualification is known to have a wide range of commercial benefits, and this is an area where we will take the roughest of estimates of player bonuses based on club performance in both the Premier League and the Champions League.

Our best benchmark in terms of Premier League end-of-season payouts, assuming a fourth-place finish by Liverpool this May, is Arsenal’s from the 2012/13 season. According to the official Premier League website, Arsenal’s league payout for finishing fourth last season was £57.1 million.

A further assumption that Liverpool, having secured Champions League qualification, will make it into the group stages of next year’s competition, will take us to calculate possible payouts from participating in the group stages.

According to SportsBusinessDaily.com, all participants who made it into the Champions League proper were entitled to a minimum of €8.6 million, which translates to about £7.2 million.

As we noted in our December calculations, a minimum total of £64.3 million will probably arrive in Liverpool’s coffers just for making the Champions League group stages.

 

Liverpool’s Business and Commercial Performance

Our December estimates only took into account the potential sum that would come with making the Champions League group stages, and used it as a base to calculate a 5 percent performance bonus for Luis Suarez, one of Liverpool’s most important players.

This time around, however, we’re going to be a bit more ambitious, especially since the Liverpool Echo have also released the 2013 accounts Liverpool submitted to Companies House.

The increase in revenue from all sources is impressive, but for the purposes of calculations in the “current” context, we will exclude media and matchday revenues, since the 2012-13 financial year featured Europa League football, which Liverpool haven’t even been involved with this season.

The growth in commercial revenue, however, was staggering, and with the announcement of new sponsorship deals in the past few months, will only continue. Commercial revenue for the year ended May 31, 2013, was £97.7 million, more than a 50 percent increase over the previous 10 months, which landed £63.9 million. Spread the 10-month average over a period of 12 months, and the increase can be adjusted to roughly 27 percent, still a significant growth factor.

Our final assumption is if Liverpool continue in their current attacking style of football, coupled with the increased exposure of Champions League football, they will generate more interest off the field, which will lead to benefits both in terms of commercial sponsorships, as well as merchandise and image rights-related sales and advertising revenue.

Applying the same 27 percent year-on-year growth factor onto our performance bonus of 5 percent, to ensure that all staff are adequately compensated for their role in helping grow the Liverpool brand, we get a 6.35 percent bonus from the previously calculated Champions League-related payouts.

This gives Suarez 6.35 percent of £64.3 million, which amounts to £4.08 million.

 

Conclusion: £56.64 Million

Adding this performance bonus to our transfer and wages baseline, we get a total valuation of £56.64 million, which, compared with our December estimate of £56.1 million, is perhaps disappointingly close.

However, considering that it’s only been three months since our previous calculation and that our estimate has already gone up by half a million pounds, this kind of growth rate could yet translate itself into bigger margins given another year or two.

It wasn’t so long ago—last summer, in fact—that Arsenal submitted a high-profile (and now widely mocked) £40-million-plus-£1 bid for Luis Suarez, which was derided at the time by Liverpool owner John W. Henry.

Back then, £40 million plus £1 was seen as a derisory amount for a player like Suarez. Three quarters of a season onward, perhaps £56.64 million will be considered shockingly low for such an important player to the Reds cause.

But of course, this is just a purely financial valuation of Luis Suarez, based on assumptions that might not ring true in the Liverpool boardroom.

Last time John W. Henry checked, football contracts “don’t seem to hold, and [Liverpool] took the position that [they’re] just not selling” (per the Guardian).

We have a sneaking suspicion that they will be holding this position for quite some time.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

Film Focus: Breaking Down Liverpool’s Impressive 3-0 Win over Manchester United

Two Steven Gerrard penalties and a Luis Suarez finish handed Liverpool an impressive 3-0 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday. And it could’ve been much more.

Besides Steven Gerrard’s performance, which, despite missing his third penalty of the night, was more than enough to see him awarded the Man of the Match, there were a number of interesting talking points from the match.

First was, of course, the sheer number of penalty kicks that referee Mark Clatternburg could have called over the 90 minutes. Marouane Fellaini’s first-half trip on Luis Suarez was let go, while Michael Carrick’s second-half swipe of Daniel Sturridge’s feet after Gerrard’s missed penalty was also not called.

Then there were the decisions that Liverpool perhaps got away with, namely the lack of contact over the visitors’ third penalty, which saw Nemanja Vidic sent off for a fourth time in this fixture for a tackle that didn’t actually connect—and a Glen Johnson handball inside the Liverpool box.

And then, there was David Moyes’ curious decision-making. It wasn’t limited to just deploying record signing and specialist No. 10 Juan Mata on the wings again. It was the lack of instant reaction from the United manager that saw his first substitutions take place on 76 minutes, a full half-hour after the hosts went 2-0 down.

Away from these three general observations, we felt there were four instances that symbolized the match and its eventual outcome. Let’s take a more detailed look at four scenarios that occurred throughout the match.

 

Robin van Persie, deep-lying playmaker?

That Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney have spectacularly failed to strike up a useful and threatening strike partnership this season has not gone unnoticed—but their lack of interplay on Sunday will have been very disappointing for Manchester United fans.

More alarming, however, was the manner in which van Persie and Rooney tried to link up with each other (or at least make it seem like they were).

So isolated was van Persie up front that he often drifted out to the left wing in pursuit of the ball, depriving United of any forward presence up front and in theory allowing the supporting midfielders—and Rooney—to charge forward.

But after so many jokes at the Red Devils’ expense in recent months about their crossing-only attacking play, Sunday was yet another exhibition of why their incessant crossing is so unfruitful.

 

BBC Match of the DayAs we see in this first-half shot, van Persie has come so deep that he’s literally on the halfway line (yellow circle on the left). Rooney’s charge forward (yellow circle on the right) brings him level with the last man in the Liverpool defence—Daniel Agger—and there are a full three United players between van Persie and Rooney that the former can look to go through.

Instead, his next move is to play a cross-field ball that ends up cleared away all too easily by the Liverpool rearguard. Not a very inspiring attacking approach.

The sad thing was, this was only one of the many times this sequence occurred.

 

Manchester United’s undisciplined defending

By our count, Liverpool could’ve easily had five penalties called on Sunday—a remarkable stat given that their first, after Rafael da Silva’s handball against Luis Suarez, was the first penalty conceded at Old Trafford in the Premier League since December 2011.

While Rafael’s handball was all down to individual carelessness (and he could arguably have been issued a second yellow card), the second penalty was very much down to a collective lack of discipline in the United defence.

In the immediate buildup to the penalty, Jordan Henderson deserves much of the credit for spotting an excellent Joe Allen run into the box and then producing an exquisite flick over the top to find his fellow midfielder. Allen’s use of the body allows him to take control of the ball, which puts the United defence under pressure.

But let’s take a look at the positional errors that the hosts have committed in this single piece of defensive play.

 

BBC Match of the DayThis freeze frame, taken right as Henderson is about to release the ball to Allen, comes on the back of a long ball over the top towards Raheem Sterling on the right side of the penalty box, where he is only tracked by Nemanja Vidic.

United left-back Patrice Evra (blue circle on the left) arrives late on the scene and is dragged back by the ball, while Marouane Fellaini (blue circle on the right) also follows the ball into a zone very much out of his own. Evra and Fellaini have almost switched positions here—bear in mind that Evra should have been tracking Sterling and Fellaini, as the defensive midfielder, should have picked up Henderson or Allen.

These positional errors leave centre-backs Phil Jones and Vidic exposed and under pressure from Allen’s run, as Vidic (yellow circle on the right) is also dragged toward the ball and thus behind Allen’s run (white arrow).

Jones’ disadvantageous starting point (yellow circle on the left) means that he could’ve left Vidic come into Allen’s path (red box) and tackled on his right foot, but the former’s rash movement bundles Allen over and concedes the penalty.

2-0 to the visitors.

 

The movement and magic of Suarez and Sturridge

It’s a testament to how badly United fared that Liverpool didn’t even really get out of their first gear over the 90 minutes and still came away with a comprehensive win.

Arguably the most impressive (and productive) piece of forward play from the Reds’ league-leading strike force came when Luis Suarez took advantage of a Daniel Sturridge mishit and finished with aplomb past David de Gea to take the score to 3-0.

 

BBC Match of the DayAs we see in this freeze frame, the dotted red line represents the path Sturridge would undoubtedly have wanted his shot to have taken. If that shot would’ve gone through, David de Gea, who had just forced the corner from which this play started after a brilliant stop from Luis Suarez at point-blank range, could’ve been equal to it, or perhaps parried it out for another corner.

Instead it hits Phil Jones and lands at Suarez’s feet, who controls and finishes it with his left foot past de Gea.

That this play started from a corner was instrumental in the buildup to the goal. Martin Skrtel had stayed forward after the corner and made his presence felt in the penalty area: Jones (yellow circle) has his attentions occupied by Skrtel.

Patrice Evra (blue circle) is once again in no-man’s land as he is woefully out of position once more, while none of United’s players tracked the brilliant run that Suarez timed to perfection. As a result, Jones is caught in two minds, and by the time the ball arrives at Suarez’s feet, Jones and all of his defensive colleagues are nowhere near Liverpool’s No. 7, who couldn’t miss from there.

While the goal ultimately came about in a fortuitous manner, with the ball ricocheting off Jones’ legs to find Suarez, the manner of the runs and the positioning in the buildup suggest that this goal could very easily have been conjured deliberately.

If Sturridge had spotted Suarez’s run and decided to play him in with a deft pass, Suarez would still have been in with an easy finish. More importantly, while Sturridge inadvertently turned creator here, it’s not difficult at all to envision a role reversal here, with Suarez pulling the strings and feeding Sturridge through with an exquisite pass.

The fact that both of Liverpool’s strikers could have played either part in this goal shows exactly why the Reds are increasingly far and away the most prolific scorers in the Premier League.

 

Liverpool still have a midfield problem

With all this said, however, we will also pick one scenario that focuses on the deficiencies that Liverpool still have, even if it wasn’t at all exploited during the game. It’s just as food for thought and a note of caution for Reds fans.

 

BBC Match of the DayThe scene shown here is a Manchester United attack—their only shot on target during the entire 90 minutes—toward the end of the first half, from which Wayne Rooney forced a good reactive save from Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.

Toward the bottom of the screen, Rafael is on the charge with the ball on the right flank. Right before this scene, Rafael’s good combination play with Adnan Januzaj leaves Jon Flanagan for dead, and the Liverpool defender is now forced to chase back after missing his initial tackle (blue circle and arrow).

As Daniel Agger is drawn out of position to mark the supporting Januzaj and Martin Skrtel is trying to maintain a presence in the penalty box, it’s now left to Steven Gerrard to track back and cover for Flanagan’s positional mishap (yellow circle and arrow).

However, Gerrard’s run toward United’s right means that his customary central defensive midfield zone has been left vacant, leaving a huge gap in the middle (red box) for Wayne Rooney (white circle) to storm into.

Rafael does subsequently find Rooney on the edge of the area, and the United forward unleashes a shot that Mignolet parries.

Fortunately for Liverpool, they held out to end the half 1-0 up and scored immediately after the second half.

From there on out, it was just a matter of wrapping up the three points. But as convincing as Liverpool looked on Sunday, they still have some work to do on the training ground.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

Liverpool Transfers: Scouting Report on Reported Reds Target Juan Manuel Iturbe

Liverpool’s high-flying and top-scoring attack this season hasn’t stopped the rumours from flying in. The latest player to be linked with a move to Anfield this summer is Hellas Verona winger Juan Manuel Iturbe.

Jamie Sanderson of the Metro has credited Liverpool with an interest in the Argentine winger, who is currently enjoying an impressive campaign in Serie A on loan from FC Porto.

With five goals and two assists in 20 starts, Iturbe has attracted the attentions of many clubs around Europe—including Hellas, who are keen to make the loan switch permanent this summer.

Starting his career at Paraguayan club Cerro Porteno, he moved to the Portuguese giants in 2010, aged just 17. Prior to his season-long loan at Hellas, he spent six months on loan at Argentine club River Plate.

Just as we’ve done with Micah Richards and Isco earlier, let’s take a look at the pros and cons to Juan Manuel Iturbe’s potential signing, assess his potential role at Anfield and evaluate whether he’d be a good pickup for Brendan Rodgers.

 

Pros

Juan Manuel Iturbe has long been highly rated in South America. In fact, he earned his first senior cap for Paraguay as early as 2009, when he was just 16 years of age—but he has since declared his national allegiance to Argentina, given that his international debut didn’t count as a competitive match.

With a low centre of gravity, dangerous acceleration, skilful close control, deadly free-kick accuracy and a cool finish, Iturbe has been dubbed the “new Lionel Messi” for obvious reasons.

His pace and strength on the ball are excellent complements to his superb left foot, which has seen him fire in long-range rockets and spectacular finishes for Hellas this term. Another Messi-like trait is his tendency to pick up the ball from deep and run at opposition defences.

Still aged just 20, Iturbe has his best years ahead of him and would be an exciting addition to any squad looking for an explosive winger capable of conjuring moments of match-winning magic.

And if the Metro are to be believed and Iturbe is indeed valued at £15 million, he would most definitely be considered a good deal.

 

Cons

One of the most damning—and condescending—questions leveled Messi’s way is “can he do it on a cold, wet Tuesday night at Stoke?”

Iturbe, who has yet to establish himself at the top level in Europe and is only spending his first full campaign on European soil, will certainly need time to adapt to English football.

His diminutive stature—he’s just 5’6.5″—means that he will be at an instant physical disadvantage in the Premier League, though his stocky frame will go some way in making up for it.

His one-footedness also limits his attacking play to go via his left side, which makes his tendencies to cut in from the right wing slightly predictable. His preference for the spectacular means that he can be selfish on the ball and in the dribble, which makes him a frustrating individualist rather than a total team player.

 

Gabriele Maltinti/Getty ImagesPotential Role at Liverpool

With their high-profile (and ultimately unfruitful) pursuits of Mohamed Salah and Yevhen Konoplyanka in the January transfer window, it’s clear that Liverpool are still on the lookout for a goal-scoring winger.

Juan Manuel Iturbe will certainly provide pace, attacking thrust and goals from the wing, and he would slot into a young and exciting Liverpool attack that has already been firing on all cylinders this season.

Brendan Rodgers would still need to instill in Iturbe a work ethic that has been evident in the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling this season. Besides making his eye-catching contributions in attack, he would need to put his physicality to use as a first line of defence, harrying his opponents from the front.

In addition, in a team where collective play and responsibility reign king, Iturbe would need to shelve his selfish tendencies and improve his decision-making in the final third.

With Coutinho and Sterling forming a scintillating line behind Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, however, Rodgers would need to evaluate how he should best blood Iturbe in and not hamper the former duo’s impressive development at the same time.

 

Conclusion

On the face of it, Juan Manuel Iturbe would be a brilliant signing for Liverpool: If Rodgers can unlock his full potential, he would be an excellent addition to a side ready to challenge for Premier League honours and looking to make a splash in Europe again.

Anfield would also be the perfect platform for Iturbe to launch himself into the European spotlight and working with Brendan Rodgers, who is now widely renowned for his man management, will only improve his game.

But from Liverpool’s perspective, with a cohesive attacking unit in such fearsome form this season, Iturbe’s “rough diamond” status would add more inexperience to a forward line already young at its core, and his style of play may need extensive coaching to adapt to a team-first, pass-and-move approach.

As such, Liverpool should only consider Iturbe if Porto are indeed ready to let him go at a reasonable price—and they’re not known for selling their best prospects on the cheap.

Perhaps the money that they’d splash on Iturbe would be better served strengthening other areas of the squad for now—unless Rodgers can find a way to fit him into an already stacked Liverpool attack.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

Manchester City: Building a Global Football Empire from the Etihad Stadium

The rise of Manchester City Football Club in recent years has been nothing short of astonishing, and since Sheikh Mansour and the current ownership team took over, they have gone from strength to strength, establishing themselves as a Premier League powerhouse.

Manuel Pellegrini’s impressive setup at the Etihad Stadium had—for a good few months—his City team the runaway top scorers in England, which are currently looking to secure a domestic double with the League Cup already in their hands.

From the outside, City seems like the archetypal sugar-daddy story: After all, didn’t Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and now AS Monaco go down the same path of sudden fame, fortune and success because of mega-rich owners?

That City’s newfound prestige—and that their starting XI boasts the likes of Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, David Silva and Sergio Aguero—is down to the money injected into the club by their Abu Dhabi owners is undeniable, and in some quarters perhaps spoken of negatively and cynically.

But a quick look at their off-field projects, initiatives and business developments suggests City aren’t just in this for the short term, and they’re not just around to pick up a few trophies.

Manchester City mean business, and they’re well on their way to building a global footballing empire.

Michael Regan/Getty Images

Building a City around their fans

From their well-known support of the club even during their lowly third-tier days to their fanatical celebration of a first-ever Premier League title after a 44-year drought, Manchester City fans have long been famous for their undying support.

So it was only right for any City management to focus on their fans—and to their credit, this is exactly what they’ve done.

As fan engagement started to go digital and social media started to take off, City were one of the first clubs to fully embrace these new channels, and as such became one of the pioneers in this arena among the football industry. (Michael da Silva of Alpha Magazine has more in this excellent write-up.)

Along the way, they’ve picked up their fair share of accolades, and for good reason.

Besides their long-admired Twitter channel, they have also become known for offering one of the most comprehensive YouTube librariesin all of football: Their “Inside City” and “Tunnel Cam” series are a rare breath of fresh air in an industry where much of the behind-the-scenes content remain proprietary and available only on paid subscriptions.

By putting their fans in the center of an all-inclusive, fun and interactive social media strategy, Manchester City have hit the jackpot—and their success has encouraged them to strike up innovative and interesting partnerships to take such marketing and fan engagement methods to the next level.

Take their collaboration with GoPro—known for their work with Red Bull Stratos and Felix Baumgartner’s record-breaking free fall from the edge of space—last year, for example.

Announced in August 2013, the GoPro tie-up was a groundbreaking look into “what it’s like to train and play like a professional footballer.” A slight exaggeration, perhaps, given that players wouldn’t have worn the cameras during competitive games—but their viewer numbers of more than two million to date have more than paid off.

Prior to that, their May 2013 partnership with Cisco and O2 turned the Etihad Stadium into the “Premier League’s most technologically fan-friendly stadium,” allowing fans to fully immerse themselves into the digital world while watching a live match unfold before them.

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Transforming the City of Manchester

The City of Manchester means a lot to the football club in two different ways.

The first is obvious: Their landmark deal in 2011 with Etihad Airways, which, according to Daniel Taylor of the Guardian, was worth awhopping £400 million, renamed the City of Manchester Stadium to the Etihad Stadium it is known as now.

It was also the largest sponsorship deal in sports at the time and showed the financial powerhouse that Manchester City Football Club were becoming—and the raw commercial potential they had in abundance.

But while the sponsorship arrangement was momentous, arguably more important was what the owners and related stakeholders had in mind for the city of Manchester itself.

The £400 million partnership had significant funds earmarked for the continued development of the Etihad Campus, an area of land around the stadium including a fans’ village and other training facilities. When they put pen to paper on the landmark deal, the landscape and the immediate vicinity was instantly changed.

Two-and-a-half years since he announced the deal, Taylor revisited the topic and wrote more extensively on the “changing football landscape” in Manchester this February (via the Guardian).

With the Etihad Campus due to start its operations within six months and the redeveloped area to include “16 other pitches, accommodation for players, apartments for relatives, a medical center, a boardman, a media theater,” this is truly the beginning of an exciting new era at Manchester City. (The Telegraph have more on the training facility plans here.)

In conjunction with this is the vision at the boardroom level, where Mansour set out a model to incorporate a sustainable future in his plans for the club, which led him to the long-awaited appointment of Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano, both instrumental to Barcelona’s dynasty under Pep Guardiola.

The Barcelona blueprint was instrumental and central to Manchester City’s own footballing approach, according to Sid Lowe of the Guardian, and has begun to work its magic. As reported by the Independent, Patrick Vieira, the ex-Arsenal legend, was chosen last summer to move from his position as football development executive to head up City’s new elite development squad, who have been flying high in the under-21 Premier League this season.

Ray Stubblebine/Associated Press

Cities abroad: A global empire

As Manchester City’s youth players go through a one-club development philosophy and prepare to graduate to first-team level, City’s groundwork has been laid at the local level. Prepare to arm Manuel Pellegrini with a squad that can compete at the top of the European game in the coming years.

Whenever it comes to empire building, the next logical step after sorting out the local setup is to look global.

And City first hit the headlines for their worldwide ambitions with their foray into the United States’ Major League Soccer, joining up with Major League Baseball team, the New York Yankees, to establish New York City FC as MLS’s 20th franchise, as confirmed via SI.com.

Besides forming a fresh new local rivalry with the New York Red Bulls, New York City FC will also be commissioning a brand new football-specific stadium in the Bronx area, according to the Guardian, while also boasting the highly rated American coach Jason Kreis as their first manager.

They weren’t content with moving to just one continent, either, and in January this year, City confirmed, via the Guardian, they would be dipping their feet into the Australian market with their acquisition of A-League side Melbourne Heart.

These two acquisitions and expansions have been branded as “strategic” investments in two of the fastest-growing football nations: City will have had one eye on their revenue streams and profit margins when they decided to move ahead with these bold ventures.

But just as they’ve done at home, City also have a one-of-a-kind opportunity waiting in front of them, the kind of opportunity that will only present itself to those with the resources and long-term vision to make it happen.

If Mansour and his management team continue their good work in the city of Manchester and decide to invest in boosting the footballing infrastructures in both New York and Melbourne, not only will they develop their new football clubs, but they might also have a defining say in the footballing growth of the US and Australia.

The potential and the possibilities of a Manchester City football empire are as tantalizing as they are awe-inspiring.

They’ve already gone back to their roots: In a classic fan-centric move, New York City FC have released two winning designs for their club badge and put them up for a public vote among their fans.

We can’t wait to see what’s next.

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League, and occasionally on football business.

5 Liverpool Academy Players Who Could Break Through Next Season

When England manager Roy Hodgson named five Liverpool players in his starting XI in last week’s friendly against Denmark, Reds boss Brendan Rodgers rightly took the plaudits for his work in developing homegrown talent at Anfield.

Indeed, the current Liverpool and England teams provide wonderful examples of Rodgers’ management: Raheem Sterling’s rise to prominence; Daniel Sturridge’s rapid evolution to become England’s deadliest striker; Jordan Henderson’s turnaround in form, confidence and stature.

As we continue to witness the current generation of English talent at Anfield, let’s also keep an eye on the future and on the good work that is being done at the Liverpool youth academy.

Here are five players from the Liverpool youth setup who could break through next season. Enjoy and let us know your picks.

 

Jordon Ibe

Jordon Ibe
Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Our first name is someone who will be familiar among Liverpool fans—and, increasingly, Birmingham City supporters.

After making a cameo off the bench during Liverpool’s 5-1 rout of Arsenal in February, Jordon Ibe joined Championship side Birmingham on loan until the end of the season, per BBC Sport.

And according to the Daily Star, Ibe already made a good enough impression on Blues boss Lee Clark that he was sent on as a substitute in a 2-1 win at Blackpool just 24 hours after signing for Birmingham.

Blessed with pace, power, dribbling, tactical intelligence and an eye for goal, Ibe has a big chance to impress during his stint at Birmingham, and Brendan Rodgers will likely afford him further opportunities to catch the eye over preseason.

A look at Raheem Sterling’s exciting development already shows what could lie in store for Jordon Ibe next season.

 

Ryan McLaughlin

Ryan McLaughlin
Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Our next candidate is also out on loan in the Championship: Ryan McLaughlin joined Barnsley on loan in January, per BBC Sport, in an initial 28-day deal that was subsequently extended until the end of the season.

Currently sidelined with a hamstring problem, McLaughlin made a positive impression on his professional debut in January—coincidentally also against Blackpool—and will be looking to become a part of Barnsley’s starting XI in the months to come.

Having impressed against AS Roma legend Francesco Totti during Liverpool’s preseason tour of the USA in 2012, McLaughlin has had to bide his time in the reserve setup, but Barnsley will be a good test for the 19-year-old.

As Glen Johnson’s contract situation continues to be uncertain, McLaughlin could get a chance to stake his claim for a first-team place this summer.

 

Joao Carlos Teixeira

“I watched this kid a couple of years ago playing for Sporting Lisbon against Liverpool at Anfield in a youth game; I could see straight away he was the best player on the pitch.”

Steven Gerrard’s post-game praise for Joao Carlos Teixeira, via LiverpoolFC.com, after his debut in a 3-2 win over Fulham in February showed just how highly the Portuguese youngster is rated within the halls of Melwood and the corridors of Anfield.

It was Teixeira’s pass that led to Daniel Sturridge winning the match-winning penalty that Gerrard converted, and his appearance off the bench when the match was tied at 2-2 was a huge show of faith from Brendan Rodgers.

Since joining Liverpool from Sporting Lisbon, Teixeira initially struggled with a back injury, and a loan spell at League One side Brentford in 2013 ended early, making his recent rise in prominence all the more encouraging.

The Daily Mail has an in-depth profile of Teixeira: Expect him to be more involved in the first team in the closing months this season and step up his claim next season.

 

Jack Robinson

Jack Robinson
Clive Rose/Getty Images

Jack Robinson has spent the current season on loan at Blackpool, where he has been a fixture in Barry Ferguson’s first team and impressed both with his tenacious defending and with his contributions in attack.

Robinson was once Liverpool’s youngest ever player when he made his senior debut for Liverpool in May 2010 during Rafael Benitez’s final game in charge of the Reds—an indication of how highly he is rated at Anfield.

His encouraging form in the Championship this season suggests that he will be part of Brendan Rodgers’ squad in their coming preseason tour of the US, where he will be eager to force his way into first-team reckoning.

With Jose Enrique still a ways away from a return from injury and Aly Cissokho failing to impress after signing on loan from Valencia, the left-back spot could be up for grabs this summer, and Jack Robinson could be one of the candidates Rodgers considers.

He will have to work on his discipline though: His record of five yellow cards and three red cards in just 24 league games this season makes him somewhat of a defensive liability still.

 

Danny Ward

Danny Ward
Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

Brendan Rodgers may be in the market for a goalkeeper this summer, but he might well have his next backup custodian in the Liverpool academy.

Danny Ward has been a fixture for the Liverpool under-21s this season, and has impressed with his all-roundedness in goal.

The Welsh youngster was a part of Liverpool’s squad during their summer US tour in 2012, and made his first appearance in a Red shirt when he came off the bench in their preseason friendly against Preston North End last summer.

As Brad Jones fails to impress as a No. 2 behind Simon Mignolet, Ward could be given extended time this coming summer to impress Rodgers ahead of the new campaign.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

Liverpool Transfers: Should Reds Go for Manchester City Defender Micah Richards?

Liverpool Transfers: Should Reds Go for Manchester City Defender Micah Richards?
Stu Forster/Getty Images

Liverpool might be flying high in their quest to secure Champions League football this season, but that hasn’t stopped the rumours from flying in. The latest player to be linked with a move to Anfield is Manchester City defender Micah Richards, according to Jamie Sanderson of the Metro.

While the Reds have been a free-scoring success up front and are now the Premier League’s top scorers, they are placed a disappointing 10th in the goals conceded column, exemplified by an inconsistent central defensive selection and some eye-catching mistakes.

Richards, a graduate from City’s youth academy, has long been linked with a move to Anfield but as he finds himself firmly down the pecking order both at right-back (to Pablo Zabaleta) and centre-back (to captain Vincent Kompany), this rumour has been revived again with the summer transfer window opening in a few months.

But would he be a good signing for Liverpool?

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons to Micah Richards’ potential signing, assess his proposed role at Anfield and evaluate whether he’d be a good pickup for Brendan Rodgers.

 

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Pros

It seems as if Richards has been around forever, yet the Manchester City man is only still 25 years of age.

Blessed with searing pace, a physical frame and dominant ability in the air, Richards burst onto the scene in 2005 as a 17-year-old and quickly gained national prominence as England’s most promising young defender.

Such was the impression he made that he was called up to the national team by Steve McClaren after just 28 professional club matches with City. When he made his first start in light of Gary Neville’s injury at right-back, he broke Rio Ferdinand’s record and became England’s youngest ever defender.

But it’s not just his defensive strength that has won him plenty of plaudits. His marauding runs down the right flank have been a prominent attacking outlet for City over the years, and his physicality means that he is a difficult opponent to come up against. His record of five assists in City’s title-winning season in 2011/12 was the joint most of any defender in the Premier League.

Capable of playing both as a central defender and on the right, Richards also brings leadership to the back four: When he captained City in 2007, he was only 19—their youngest ever captain—and he deputized for Kompany during the Belgian’s absence, again during the 2011/12 season.

 

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Cons

A picture of physicality, strength and fitness in his early years at City, Richards has not had the best of luck with injuries recently, with a hamstring problem his latest affliction.

Despite being an important part of their title-winning 2011/12 season, he made just seven Premier League appearances last term, and he has only played in two league games in the current campaign.

In his absence, Pablo Zabaleta, signed during the Mark Hughes era, has become a mainstay in the City first team and established himself as one of the best right-backs in England, making it ever harder for Richards to force his way back into the team.

As such, it’s been a while since Richards has enjoyed an extended run-out in City colours—but when he’s had a first-team opportunity, he has yet to show that he can recapture his pre-injury form.

In Martin Kelly, Liverpool already have a strikingly similar case: Both Kelly and Richards burst onto the scene as talented and complete young defenders, capable of playing both in the centre and on the right but injuries have stalled their striking potential and derailed their careers.

Would Brendan Rodgers, having seen first-hand Kelly’s troubles in making a successful comeback from injury, want a repeat?

 

Michael Regan/Getty Images

Potential Role at Liverpool

When it comes to ability, there’s no doubt that Richards has the talent to succeed at the highest level.

At just 25 years of age, he still has his best years as a defender ahead of him and at Liverpool there is just the right position for him to reestablish himself in the Premier League.

Martin Skrtel has reclaimed his position in the right side of Liverpool’s central defence, but he remains an inconsistent defensive option. Despite having improved his goals return this season, he has also made some alarming mistakes and shown weaknesses in his positioning and tackling.

With Mamadou Sakho seemingly Brendan Rodgers’ first-choice left-sided centre-back option, ahead of vice-captain Daniel Agger, there is a place for a young but established defender on his right.

Both Richards and Sakho’s versatility mean that they can fill in on the flanks in case of injury to their team-mates during a match and also crucially that Rodgers can change his formation to a 3-5-2 with ease and confidence.

 

Conclusion

Brendan Rodgers has carved a strong reputation as an excellent nurturer of talent, with the likes of DanielSturridge, Philippe Coutinho, Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling benefiting greatly from his man management.

A young English talent needing a platform to prove himself at the highest level, at a club where domestic talent and an exciting attacking ethos are prevalent? There could be no better club than Liverpool for Micah Richards at this stage of his career.

And given that his current contract runs out in the summer of 2015—and that, according to Sami Mokbel of the Daily Mail, City may look to move him on given his unwillingness to sign a new deal—Richards could also be available for a lower fee.

The risk that Richards could yet go down Martin Kelly’s path means that any potential signing would be a gamble, but the chance to pick up one of England’s erstwhile hottest defensive talents on a bargain deal is surely too good to turn down.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

State of Brazil 2014: Where Do Things Stand in World Cup Host Nation Right Now?

During Brazil’s 5-0 hammering of South Africa in Johannesburg in an international friendly on Wednesday, more than just a footballing spectacle was on show.

Sure, Neymar’s hat-trick—the Barcelona star has hit 30 goals in just 47 caps—inspired the Selecao to a resounding victory over the hosts. And the Samba stars even hit the headlines after the match for all the right PR reasons when they elected to pose and celebrate a young pitch invader, as reported by the Daily Mail.

But this prestige friendly was also the meeting between the most recent World Cup host and the current incumbent, played at Soccer City, the venue of the 2010 final, where Spain beat the Netherlands to win their first-ever World Cup.

It was a passing of the baton—well, of sorts.

In an ideal world, from both FIFA’s perspective and surely the Brazilian Football Association’s, Brazil’s resounding victory would also have represented an analogous reflection of the upcoming World Cup in relation to 2010’s, with Brazilian excellence, preparation and execution not just limited to a five-star performance on the pitch.

In an ideal world, the joy and happiness we saw on the faces of the Brazilian team when they celebrated their victory (and the young pitch invader) would not only be repeated as they take to the stage to win their sixth World Cup on home soil in July, but for generations to come as they soak in the legacy of the “best World Cup ever.”

And in an ideal world, the sense of satisfaction in the Brazilian fans at Soccer City and watching on television at home would precede a sense of immense pride to be realized this summer while they watched a spectacle unfold at home, before they bid farewell to the hordes of tourists who will have created an economic boon for them to enjoy.

But where do things stand right now in the host nation? As we discuss below, things are not quite as rosy as they should be. Let’s look at how Brazil is faring, from different angles.

 

 

Gallo Images/Getty ImagesThe team: Ready to pounce

When it comes to matters on the pitch, the Brazil national team seem more than ready to take their chance on home soil this summer.

While a 5-0 drubbing of South Africa, their biggest ever loss at home, was an impressive achievement, and once again highlighted Neymar’s growing stature in world football and importance to his country’s footballing hopes, an arguably more symbolic result than took place last summer.

Brazil’s 3-0 defeat of World Cup champions Spain in the 2013 Confederations Cup final, itself a dress rehearsal for this summer’s World Cup, was courtesy of a match-winning performance by Neymar(and two goals from Fred), in an all-round spectacular performance. They inflicted upon Spain their first defeat in 29 competitive matches.

Luiz Felipe Scolari’s starting XI on Wednesday featured just two changes from his Confederations Cup final win last summer. WithNeymar having prospered since his move to Barcelona, the resurgence of Fernandinho at Manchester City and the impressive rise of Oscar at Chelsea, this is a Brazil side as workmanlike as it is flamboyant.

As Brazil prepare to welcome the visit of 31 other teams this summer, they will also revel in the fact that their opponents face a grueling match schedule, made all the more difficult because of the weather and traveling and exacerbated by the hot afternoon kickoff times.

This ESPNFC article lists all the obstacles that Brazil’s rivals will be up against: With the weather conditions of six cities classed as “stifling”—four of them “oppressive”—and high temperatures of over 31 degrees Celsius, the cross-country coverage will ensure startling differences between stadiums and locations.

The sheer largeness of the country means that some participating teams will face extremely tiring travel schedules. The USA team, for example, will travel a total of 8,800 miles for three of their group stage games, spending at least 35 hours commuting in total, while all matches will be played in “oppressive” conditions.

Of course, not all teams face such a demanding schedule, but it’s worth remembering that South American teams generally have a better record in World Cups hosted in the same region: All seven World Cups played in the Americas have crowned South American winners.

The only silver lining for other pretenders is that Brazil only finished as runners-up the last time they hosted a World Cup at home.

 

 

Friedemann Vogel/Getty ImagesThe logistics: Another last-minute dash

It seems as if World Cups, despite the spectacle they may be, always involve last-minute madness.

If we thought South Africa’s preparations in the final months leading up to their tournament weren’t a big enough alarm—as FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke claimed in February 2010 (via Sky)—the situation this year is apparently even worse.

Just this January, FIFA President Sepp Blatter told the Telegraph:

Brazil just found out what [the scale of work] means and has started work much too late. No country has been so far behind in preparations since I had been at FIFA, even though it is the only nation which has had so much time—seven years—in which to prepare.

Not that his public criticism had had the desired effects. Valcke’s latest update in early March reflected the current state of chaos in Brazil’s preparations, as they “are working in conditions where the cement is not even dry,” and all IT and telecommunications systems hadn’t been installed, according to SportBusiness.com.

This was a long time coming.

A grand total of six stadiums, in Sao Paulo, Curitiba, Cuiaba, PortoAlegre, Natal and Manaus, had missed a deadline of Dec. 31, 2013 set by FIFA to allow a suitable preparation window ahead of the summer’s matches.

Since then, Curitiba has flirted with danger, coming close in February to being dropped for the tournament altogether, according to BBC Sport, only for local organizers to bring in hundreds of extra workers to meet building requirements and ultimately earn a FIFA reprieve.

Now Sao Paulo, which is set to host the opening game, might not be ready to hand its stadium over until May, a month before the tournament kicks off on June 12, according to BBC Sport.

Valcke, understandably, is unimpressed: According to theSportBusiness.com article above, he has had more harsh words regarding Brazil’s lax preparations:

I am not a World Cup specialist, but I will say this has not been easy for sure. We are almost at 100 days before the first game starts in a stadium in Sao Paulo which is still not ready and won’t be ready until May 15.

A glaring example of Brazil’s last-minute tendencies was the embarrassing fiasco over the preparation of the Maracana stadium for a high-profile friendly match between Brazil and England, supposedly to mark its grand reopening. Due to concerns over its structural readiness, and thus supporter safety, judicial order suspended the match a few days before it was schedule to take place, according to the Guardian.

The match ultimately resumed and ended in a 2-2 draw, but the warning signs were already there.

 

 

Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesThe politics: The biggest headache of them all

If FIFA have already suffered enough headaches because of the disorganization in Brazil’s preparations, they’re about to experience even more—and this time the Brazilian FA could feel the heat as well.

It would’ve been all well and good if the issues that were raised before the Brazil-England friendly preceded an ultimately grand spectacle in the Confederations Cup.

But while Brazil’s victory over Spain said plenty about their ambitions to lift their sixth World Cup this year, what happened off the pitch among the local supporters were almost inevitable—yet surprising in equal measure.

The BBC reported that protesters clashed with police during the final, as demonstrations sparked by transport fare rises snowballed into more and larger grievances about the imminent World Cup and the costs associated with the tournament.

Massive public investment in preparation for the World Cup has irked the Brazilian public, who has witnessed a slowdown in the Brazilian economy and prefers the public money to be channeled into other priorities like health care and education, according to the Telegraph.

The “FIFA Go Home” and “There Won’t Be a World Cup” banners on show last summer weren’t as damning as the massive drop in public support for the tournament. In November 2008, almost 80 percent of the public were reportedly in favor of the World Cup. In March 2013, it had fallen to just 50 percent.

And the public worries are legitimate.

There have long been debates on the actual merits and sustainable benefits to hosting international sporting events like the Olympics and the World Cup due to the financial burden they put on the host countries, and we only have to look at South Africa to see the repercussions and strain that football’s premier tournament can put on a country.

According to the Guardian, the government spent £687 million in new and refurbished stadiums (10 in total) for the World Cup. Since the tournament ended, several struggled for continuous use—much like Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Stadium after the 2008 Olympics—and required continuing subsidies from hard-pressed local authorities.

A South African government report has said that the month-long tournament cost the country more than £2 billion, while FIFA earned £2.2 billion and came away with a handsome £394 million profit. Several of their stadiums have since been branded white elephants, an accusation that has since been leveled at Brazil’s own construction efforts, according to another Guardian report.

So all this talk of a legacy off the pitch, as FIFA and organizing bodies often claim World Cups can leave, could very well be seen by the public as pure rhetoric and a lofty dream as they end up bearing the economic brunt.

Which will put an even bigger burden on the shoulders of the Selecaostars.

A record sixth World Cup success on home soil would bring joy to their legions of loyal fans, but in the end, might just serve to placate the growing unrest across the nation.

Now imagine if they didn’t win.

Luiz Felipe Scolari still has plenty of work to do yet.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League, and occasionally on football business.