Tag Archives: 2012

Wigan 3/24/2012: That’s It For Now

Liverpool used to embody everything I aspired to be.

When I first watched Michael Owen in my early years, I wanted to be like him. Young, talented, successful, and with never-ending potential. I wanted to make things happen.

When I then recognized Steven Gerrard’s importance in the Liverpool team, I found the idea of being a creator even more appealing. The energetic, creative, hardworking team player who thrives on giving others opportunities. With an unparalleled ability to handle pressure and stress. That was true leadership. Not by words, but by example. As I grew into Liverpool during my high school years and became a fully-fledged diehard in college, Steven Gerrard was the very embodiment of the kind of person I wanted to become.

When I saw Rafa Benitez, I saw an intelligent and versatile manager who could work around problems and come up with ways to get over obstacles. Someone who could make do with having less talent at his disposal, but able to make up for lost ground simply through strategy.

When I watched Xabi Alonso play, I saw someone so classy he was able to make some of the hardest tasks look routine and effortless. Someone so humble and down to earth about his abilities, and so keen to give others credit. Someone whose contribution and talent he never needed to acknowledge, because everyone would realize even more during his absence.

When I fell in love with Fernando Torres, I wanted to be effective, composed, and so in tune with a collective cause that I’d be willing to sacrifice short-term gain for a long-term vision. In Pepe Reina I saw someone who championed the value of the team so highly that he would be the first to celebrate David Ngog’s clincher against Manchester United, that he would be so selflessly professional in giving Iker Casillas penalty tips.

And finally, when I watched Liverpool, I realized and connected to the importance of never giving up. Sure, Liverpool loved to do things the hard way – extra-time goals, last-minute goals, penalty shootouts. There would be frustrations along the way, but finding everything I connected to in the team and on the pitch every week, despite some trials and tribulations, was worth rooting for to the very ends of the earth.

If you know me personally, you’ll know that I’m not one to wear my heart on my sleeve. But it was the fact that I felt so in tune with Liverpool Football Club that I’d proudly wear my Liverpool shirt to class and around campus on the day of a Liverpool game, leave lectures early and run back to my dorm for a live Champions League broadcast, and wake up at 7 in the morning every weekend for Premier League action.

It was a love affair that I never thought could end.

But now, I see my erstwhile beloved team wilt away in the face of adversity.

I see them give up when the going gets tough.

I see them continue to come up with excuses to mask over problems.

I see them stay stubborn and not address areas that need substantial improvement.

I see them freeze when there are so many options to take, when they should be ecstatic at the sheer possibilities of what they can do.

I see them lie down and be unsportsmanlike.

I see a Liverpool Football Club that, contrary to what the coaches and the players claim, is heading further and further into the foggy realms of mediocrity.

And as I watch a Liverpool Football Club that used to promise so much and mean so much in my life, I’m getting more and more disillusioned and apathetic.

Because how can you muster the commitment and passion to follow a team when they don’t reciprocate that commitment and passion?

How are you supposed to buy into a club anthem that tells us to walk on with hope and to walk on through the wind and the rain, when those associated with the club don’t have that hope, and aren’t willing to battle the elements?

The Liverpool Football Club that I knew and loved is no longer.

And until that fire within me is rekindled and my support is once again deserving of its “unconditional” status, this will be it from me for now.

Everton 03/13/2012: That’s More Like It

Finally, three points to show for a dominant performance.

And what a performance.

Liverpool barnstormed to a Steven Gerrard-sized destruction of Everton in the Merseyside derby last night. The skipper’s hattrick marked an emphatic return to winning ways, and in some style.

Every single player on the pitch – even Stewart Downing, who played much more central than normal and was much less effective than he’s threatened to be in the past few weeks, and Jordan Henderson, who went through the motions of an insipid and uninspired first half – was excellent.

So where would we start?

Perhaps with Martin Kelly. Given the quality that we’ve always known to exist within Kelly, perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise that Glen Johnson is still out injured. With pace, power and positional awareness, Kelly put in a top-class performance as a marauding full-back. He might not have the close dribbling and guile that Johnson has, but he’s a handful all right. Would have made the England squad by now if it weren’t for Johnson’s form this season.

Or Jose Enrique. More evidence of his pure physical strength was on show last night as he bulldozed Everton’s right side to submission time and again. But this is what we’ve been accustomed to for most of the season. Shouldn’t be a surprise.

How about Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel? The much-maligned vice-captain came in and looked like he’d never left. He even cut out the long ball over the top to Carroll – I would’ve offered to eat my hat if anyone predicted that before the game. Skrtel was shifted to Daniel Agger’s usual left side, but he didn’t care. It was just business as usual as he proceeded to dominate all the one-on-ones and aerial battles that came his way. The considerably bulky Victor Anichebe and Denis Stracqualursi were reduced to nothingness and substituted having made zero meaningful contributions to the Everton attack.

And Jay Spearing? The Liverpool lad always saves something extra for the derbies, and what he lacks in pure technique and finesse, he makes up for in passion. A ubiquitous showing from the covering defensive midfielder – though, of course, we have to recognize that he can’t be the long-term back-up for Lucas.

Luis Suarez was back to his mesmerizing best, and he ripped Everton’s defence open with two assists for Gerrard. He was played largely in a supporting role behind Carroll, and that’s where he should be in the long run. Cut down on the theatrics, and we’d really have a gem on our hands.

Andy Carroll wasn’t half bad either. In fact, he was pretty darn good. Who would’ve thought he’d dominate almost all his headers against the man mountain that is Sylvain Distin? Or that he’s actually capable of Peter Crouch-esque great-touch-for-a-big-man flicks and turns? Or – I can’t believe I’m about to say this – that he can pick out a pass from the midfield like Xabi Alonso once did?

Okay, maybe I’m getting a bit over-excited, but this is some sort of minor vindication for all the support I’ve given Carroll (and all the flak I’ve taken for doing so). But seriously, it was so pleasing to see that he is actually capable of playing in a pass-and-move team. There’s plenty of hope in him yet.

And then we arrive at Stevie G.

What words can I use to describe this man that I haven’t used before?

Of course, this is the same man who’s powered me through an entire workday on the back of less than four hours of sleep – I certainly don’t regret that sleep lost its battle against a 4am match.

This was Gerrard at his midfield general, talismanic best. Putting his body on the line with some great tackles and blocks, and driving through the midfield like the Gerrard of old, he delivered a true captain’s performance. It’s not one we should be getting used to, given his advancing years, but one up there with his best, and one we should treasure. Truly first-class, and his link-up play with Carroll and Suarez was a joy to behold as well.

In case this wasn’t clear enough already – it’s been a while since I’ve felt so good about a Liverpool display.

Sure, the Carling Cup win was great, and to see some silverware was definitely satisfying – but the shootout win over Cardiff was more a relief than anything. As with so many other wins this season, because it’s been a year of such fine margins that goals have more often been greeted with relief rather than pure joy.

Not last night.

Finally, the performance we’ve almost trademarked at times this season has yielded the three points that we’ve always threatened to come away with, but have never actually succeeded in doing.

It might be too late to salvage a Top Four finish, but it’s never too late to salvage pride.

The Case for 4-2-3-1

Here’s a list of words that can be used to describe Liverpool at various points this season: thrilling, depressing, frustrating, swashbuckling, infuriating.

In fact, the list is almost as colorful as the number of different formations employed by Kenny Dalglish and his management team.

Since Dalglish took over in January last year, we’ve seen a variety of tactical approaches to games: 4-4-2, 3-5-2, 4-1-4-1, 4-2-3-1, and so on.

While having different options can be beneficial over the course of a season, we have yet to see Dalglish fixate on a first-choice starting 11 and tactical plan.

It’s been a tumultuous year and two months for the Liverpool manager in terms of personnel, to say the least, with Andy Carroll, Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez and Lucas Leiva all out of the side at various points during Dalglish’s tenure.

Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson have also underwhelmed since arriving at Anfield in the summer, and the rises and falls in their form have meant that they haven’t had a chance to fully cement a place in the first team yet.

Add in the frustratingly profligate performances up front and the unfortunate knee situation that prevents Craig Bellamy from playing week in, week out, and we have a Liverpool team that has yet to fully gel on the pitch.

After all, Suarez, Carroll and Gerrard only got their first ever start together earlier in 2012.

But provided that this summer’s transfer business is at least as fruitful as last season’s—the only signings last summer that have truly caught the eye have been Jose Enrique and Bellamy—Dalglish will have a bigger and better squad to work with in 2012-2013.

The back five—Pepe Reina, Glen Johnson, Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger and Jose Enrique—basically picks itself, and the considerable strength in reserve means that any additions to the defensive ranks would merely bolster its impressive defensive record.

It’s the midfield and forward lines that need a system suited for Liverpool’s multi-faceted approach, and 4-2-3-1 is exactly that.

Assuming no further additions to the squad, let’s explore how the current team would work best on paper in this formation.

When Lucas returns from injury, he should slot straight back into the defensive midfield position he has made his own. Alongside him would be Charlie Adam, who seems most comfortable in a deep playmaker role akin to that of Xabi Alonso. He might have had an inconsistent season so far, but he remains Liverpool’s most direct threat with long and diagonal passes, and his attacking tendencies would be a decent foil to Lucas’ all-action approach.

There is an alternative to Adam as Liverpool’s regista, of course—forgotten man Alberto Aquilani. Contrary to Dalglish’s assertions that Aquilani is most comfortable in Gerrard’s second striker position, he is equally impressive as a deep-lying midfielder, as his cameos during his only season at Anfield showed. He represents a classy option in the middle and would arguably be a more important component in the first team than Adam—but the key is whether or not Aquilani still has the appetite to succeed in English football.

With Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson also capable of filling in, that’s the “2” solved.

Before we move to the “3” in support of the lone striker, let’s first look at the candidates up front, and there is only one serious candidate within the current squad: Andy Carroll.

It’s been an up-and-down season for Carroll—more downs than ups—but he remains the best option to lead the line. Dirk Kuyt has taken his conversion to the right wing a bit too close to heart to excel as a lone striker, and Luis Suarez’s creativity and relative profligacy makes him a traditional support striker rather than an out-and-out forward.

While Carroll has disappointed in many of his performances, he has the strength, power and aerial ability to be an effective (and even prolific) targetman for the Reds. His shooting and pace, despite underwhelming this season, is underrated. He has all the elements to be one of the best attacking forces in the League, and he should be given the opportunity to spearhead the attack—again, in the context of the current squad. Of course, he also possesses the ability to create chances for the attacking trio behind him, which has been a criminally underused tactic this season.

Now onto the “3.”

Dalglish finds an overwhelming number of options for the three positions behind the lone striker, but the combination that might just work best is Craig Bellamy, Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard.

All three possesses creativity, work rate, pace and finishing ability, and we have seen on various occasions this season that they are capable of combining intricate passing plays—the crux of the much-espoused pass-and-move style.

Bellamy and Gerrard can cross too. Their wing play on the flanks would create ample space for Suarez to exploit down the middle and for an onrushing Charlie Adam or Alberto Aquilani, and they would be able to put in the kind of crosses that Carroll feasts on.

Simply put, this 4-2-3-1 lineup would be a perfect fit for a possession-heavy playing style that Liverpool have exhibited this season—and would also present a considerable threat on the counterattack.

Which should come as no surprise—after all, this was the system that Rafael Benitez tailored to perfection during his reign, and his counterattacking Reds were one of the most fearsome attacking combination during their peak.

That’s not to say that simply adopting a 4-2-3-1 system would shoot them up the league table next season—far from it.

There’s plenty left for the coaching team to do—not least the abhorrent finishing. Kenny Dalglish should strengthen his squad this summer to provide better quality competition for first-team places at Anfield, and to find a productive solution to their at-times scintillating build-up play this season.

But in the long term—if Kenny Dalglish stays on for the long term—there should be a more-or-less established first 11 and a strong bench to provide a game-changing spark if needed.

And in the long term, Liverpool can do no wrong by going with a 4-2-3-1.

 

Original article from the Bleacher Report

Arsenal 3/3/2012: Over and Out

Same old Anfield, just without a point.

Once again, Liverpool won in all the statistical battles but came out inferior in the most important one of all.

Perhaps, with two posts hit, a penalty missed and a few fine stops from Arsenal’s Wojciech Szczesny, Liverpool were unlucky to win. But with a total goal tally of 30 (Robin van Persie has 25 himself), Liverpool are just not doing the business in front of goal.

Which means our unimpressive home record this season is a deserved result from such a profligate attack. No two ways around it.

It certainly didn’t help that Craig Bellamy, arguably Liverpool’s most effective player this season, and Andy Carroll, who would have enjoyed a field day against Arsenal’s porous and ponderous backline, weren’t thrown on until it was too late for them to have any sort of significant impact.

Not that the defence are to be absolved any blame. Far from it.

To say that the two goals conceded were not a result of a defence falling asleep would just be a false statement.

Liverpool proved that Daniel Agger will be a massive loss over the next few weeks. Without his cultured style, Liverpool resorted to Jamie Carragher’s long-ball-first strategy that was as unfruitful as it was unpretty. As far as Carragher is concerned, his performance was one that fully justified why he’s been left out of the starting eleven this season. It was his poor positional play that led to van Persie’s first goal, and he didn’t look convincing at all in the Liverpool defence.

And it’s not that Liverpool didn’t want the result, either.

The players played their heart out today. Jay Spearing and Dirk Kuyt summed up Liverpool’s desire to get something out of the game with a typically wholehearted and never-say-die performance. When game-changing genius like van Persie’s is in short supply, it is at least comforting to see that the players want it as much as we fans do, but only somewhat.

Because alas, work ethic is just not enough at the top level.

But at least it’s better than whining and exaggerating, the kind of play that Luis Suarez has come to perfect in recent months.

By making himself the center of negative attention in every play he’s involved with, he’s making the same mistake that Fernando Torres used to make during his time at Anfield: spending an inordinate amount of time each game trying to win fouls, protest decisions and generally not being constructive. What happened to getting up and getting on with it? Where are his priorities?

Suarez is definitely not in a purple patch right now. Unfortunately, it just seems that there will be no period this season when Liverpool as a team will be on form.

Just ask Charlie Adam.

His £10-million corner kicks once again came to nothing against Arsenal. And not only did he fail to create any set piece threat, he didn’t manage to trouble the Arsenal defence at all. He showed a lack of inexperience at the top level and a serious deficiency in decision-making as he broke down Liverpool’s attacks time and again, choosing the wrong pass option and going for a Hollywood pass instead of a more constructive one.

If he’s to be the crux of our midfield play and creativity, he’s got a damn long way to go yet to fill the humongous shoes of Xabi Alonso.

At this point, I’m getting so tired and so used to the fact that our attack almost seems unwilling to score and put away chances that I’d be surprised if we got out of Anfield with anything more than a point. I’d even guessed that it’d be another bore draw for both teams, which would’ve been bad enough for both teams.

I just never thought we’d come away with nothing.

 

Modified from a Bleacher Report article

Cardiff 2/26/2012: Looking Forward

Well. Kenny Dalglish and the boys were never going to heed my advice, were they? Liverpool were always going to do things the hard way, weren’t they?

It’s never a Liverpool cup final unless it involves heart attacks and last-minute drama, and so it proved.

That makes it three out of three for me in terms of cup finals, and three of the most epic yet: Istanbul, Cardiff and now Wembley.

I have to say up front that this was not the trophy-winning team I had dreamed of seeing for Liverpool. My all-time favorites remain the spine of Rafa Benitez’s glory days, those years with Javier Mascherano marshalling the defence, Xabi Alonso dictating play, and Steven Gerrard in perfect tandem with Fernando Torres, and I maintain that if we had that as our current spine, we’d be further up the League table right now.

Much as I wanted to see a Liverpool trophy win, it wasn’t really with this team in mind.

For all of Dalglish’s man management genius, I hadn’t seen him do the business in Europe like Rafa did. Charlie Adam is no Alonso. Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing have been so woefully below-par that I didn’t want to see them on the field, especially when much more capable replacements were on the bench. And Luis Suarez – or should that be Andy Carroll? – is no Torres.

I was looking forward to the final, but not excited. This was supposed to be a routine win over Championship opposition, surely a much easier opponent than Manchester City or Chelsea.

But of course, the romance of a cup competition took over – and what a performance Cardiff City put in.

And as I was increasingly irate at the ease with which Cardiff cut Liverpool open for the first goal, the infuriating anonymity of Henderson – both of our goals, and the majority of our good attacking play, came after he was taken off – the ineffectiveness of Suarez, even the declining shooting ability of Gerrard – so too did I start to play for the shirt.

Because, amidst all the frustration and the impatience, I also saw Downing put in his best shift in a Liverpool shirt – and believe me, given all I’ve thrown his way this season, he was phenomenal against Cardiff – and I witnessed, for the umpteenth time, the heroics of Dirk Kuyt.

We should have known. This was a man who has always placed team ahead of self, the man who, purely based on workrate and positional awareness, found himself in the right place at the right time, pulling off the right shot with the right accuracy. Liverpool’s resident clutch master. This was a man who, after seeing his captain miss the first penalty in the shootout, encouraged him and told him his team would be back in it. The captain’s captain. This was a man who, knowing he had to score his penalty, brushed aside the pressure and coolly slotted home his. The nerves of steel.

To be sure, the poor (though heart-stopping) manner of this victory continues to paper over the cracks that have troubled the team this entire season. On a day where Cardiff scored 2 from 7 shots on goal and 11 in total, Liverpool registered the same goal tally while hitting 19 on goal and 39 in total. When the confetti has settled and the champagne has dried, everyone will recognize again that this profligacy is simply not good enough.

And it certainly seemed that Liverpool were intent on making things hard for themselves, that they play better as the underdogs. Penalty shootouts might have been kind to Liverpool over the years, but it won’t remain that way every time.

But when that kickoff whistle blew, I threw myself into the game, cheering every constructive move and protesting every bad play. When Martin Skrtel hit his equalizer, I matched his fervor in celebrating. When the penalties were missed, I held my head in my hands and lamented. And when Anthony Gerrard missed the last penalty, I ran around the house with my arms raised.

Because winning is winning is winning.

All that matters now is where Liverpool go from here and how we do it. Looking forward is always the priority.

Except, of course, we now have the English calendar’s first trophy behind us.

What a relief.

We’re Off to Wembley!

16 years.

That’s apparently how long it’s been since Liverpool last visited Wembley.

Kenny Dalglish might reference the fact that Wembley was closed for a few years due to renovations and constructions, but the fact remains that it’s been 16 years.

Sure, we’ve made the trip to numerous other stadiums during that time (“we” meaning Liverpool, since I, of course, remain an overseas armchair cynic), but this is the famous Anfield South that Liverpool used to be so familiar with during all those glorious years.

What does Wembley mean to me?

To the detached fan, to some extent, every European stadium is the same, barring how the stands look, since the crowds are always quieted for the TV commentator and the signs only tailor-made to show the current zeitgeist surrounding that particular club.

Sure, we strain our ears to pretend like we catch the chants sometime (and we boast of this to our less fanatic mates), but we’re never actually sure if it’s the home crowd singing about Steven Gerrard’s transfer request or the away section about his forty-yard passes. So, really, aside from the legendary voice of George Sephton booming into Anfield’s PA system, we’re missing out on the local Scouse flavor. We can’t hear songs about the size of a former player’s primary appendage. And we certainly couldn’t hear the Kop serenade the Anfield Cat.

So whatever is being made of Liverpool’s return to Wembley as the traditional cathedral of English football – it sounds romantic and fantastic, but I will always focus on the prize.

And this time, the prize at stake isn’t just the League Cup (otherwise known to other just-as-enthusiastic celebrators as the Mickey Mouse Cup), but our future.

Because, as the first piece of silverware on offer in the season, this is a chance for Liverpool to achieve something tangible.

A chance to show that we’re not down and out. Not quite a resurgent force in the championship races just yet, but that the erstwhile Cup Specialists are back.

Many fans seem to abhor this nickname. Why let the abusers and labelers belittle you? Cup Specialists are Cup Specialists because they win Cups. They get their hands on silverware. That’s surely better than making a final and not winning it. (Should those clubs be termed Runner-Up Specialists? I rather like that idea. And I should know the irony behind that – we did famously “only” finish runners-up just three whole seasons ago.)

But since the unfortunate end to Rafa Benitez’s reign and the forgettable (but unfortunately unforgettable) tenure of Roy Hodgson, this has been a Liverpool determined to bounce back and show what it’s made of.

And, having taken the much harder path to Wembley and fought all the potential final clashes in the rounds leading to Cardiff, Liverpool won’t get a better chance than this.

Sure, it wouldn’t be a Liverpool final if Sunday didn’t feature much drama. After all, we did only win a fifth European Cup having scored three in six minutes, saved an incredible double-shot at point-blank range, and denied a striking powerhouse from the spot. And after all, we did only win the FA Cup with a rabbit out of Steven Gerrard’s magnificent hat and Pepe Reina’s equally magnificent gloves. Liverpool, final, and comfortable aren’t words that go easily together.

A clean and comfortable win wouldn’t be as fun for the neutrals and as stressful for my heart as an epic shootout would be. I am very aware of that.

But I’ll take the win and go home with the Cup. The parade doesn’t have to be a city-stopping affair.

After all, it’s been 16 years. Let’s just keep it simple and get it done.

ManUtd 02/11/2012: The Disaster

Well, it just had to be, didn’t it?

Before Liverpool’s trip to Old Trafford, a first in more than a year, there was so much to look forward to. Would Liverpool take their recent good form against Manchester United to them? Would we see a much-awaited front four of Andy Carroll, Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard and Craig Bellamy? And of course, would we finally see the end to the seemingly ubiquitous and never-ending Suarez-Evra quarrel?

With Liverpool taking nothing back to Anfield, there is so much to write about. Kenny Dalglish’s preference for Jordan Henderson over Charlie Adam, and his curious insistence on using Stewart Downing (my take on both cases: absolutely inexplicable, indefensible and ridiculous). Jay Spearing’s inability to cope at the highest level. The depressing and infuriating lack of fight shown from Dalglish’s charges after going two-nil down so soon in the second half.

But it just had to be Luis Suarez who came away with all the unwanted headlines, didn’t it?

With his petulant snub of a pre-match handshake with Patrice Evra, Luis Suarez has made his position at Liverpool Football Club untenable.

Maybe he had a point to make, to show the English media, to show Evra that he really felt wrongly accused by the outcome of the case.

But he chose the entirely wrong way to do it.

Of course, we all recognize that Evra is not a saint himself. The transcript of the case proved this already. And his enthusiastic celebrations after the final whistle in front of Suarez and all around the stadium, trying to take home the plaudits in an emotional game, did not sit well even with his manager. Of course, we also all know that Sir Alex Ferguson is naturally inclined to bias towards United players, that he often is the issuer of hypocritical comments.

But does that mean Liverpool have to take this road in addressing this issue? Can Liverpool not detach themselves from unsavory comparisons and look at how they have reacted from an ideological and moral standpoint?

What happened to being the better man? A professional? Did Suarez have to be so short-sighted in failing to see the big picture? In case he still doesn’t know what the big picture is: it’s the issue of racism in (English) football. No, Luis, the case is not whether or not you feel personally aggrieved about it. It’s also no longer about the language issue. It’s about stamping out racism in English football. Liverpool went their painstaking ways to show their support for him throughout the case, and have come under intense scrutiny and criticism for doing so, and this was the occasion to finally put everything to bed, to settle everything once and for all.

Except Suarez didn’t realize this.

Nobody is saying that a pre-match handshake takes away all the underlying hard feelings, but this was different from the suggestion that got Sepp Blatter into such hot water. In this case, as much as Suarez and Liverpool have attempted to portray themselves as the victim of unfair judgment and a biased punishment, circumstances dictate that Patrice Evra was the victim of racial abuse. At face value, if anything, Evra should have been the one entitled to refusing the handshake, not Suarez.

In what has already been a contentious and emotional affair, continuing to play victim is not going to help Liverpool in the short or the long run.

But most importantly, while Liverpool have had their reasons to support Suarez so wholeheartedly throughout this debacle, Suarez has let even them down.

Perhaps, as a matter of principle, Suarez didn’t want to and was never going to shake Evra’s hand in the first place.

But to override Dalglish’s pre-match comments that Suarez had moved on, that he would shake Evra’s hand, was immature, irresponsible and embarrassing, not to mention a PR disaster. What is Dalglish going to do now that his star player has undermined his authority and his confident claims that this episode is over? Does he make his authority known to Suarez, that this type of public aggravation and this openly undermining of Dalglish is unacceptable? Or does he continue to play the “I didn’t see it” game and act like nothing happened?

Football, at the end of the day, is a game, a show of entertainment for fans who pay to enjoy an event. Is it worth it to make yourself such a polarizing figure just to prove your point? Suarez’s years of experience in world and European football should have been more than enough to teach him that football is as much political as it is tribal, but sadly, he seems to have missed the memo.

Meanwhile, Suarez himself is quickly becoming one of the most unpopular figures in English football. He might bafflingly still maintain his status as a Kop hero after Saturday’s match, but at what cost?

 

EDIT: Suarez has apparently apologized for his handshake snub on Saturday, and the Liverpool hierarchy have expressed their disappointment towards his actions. But while this represents a good start, the underlying issues will still linger for a while yet.

Tottenham 02/07/2012: The Non-Event

It was the key moment that kept replaying on the post-program highlights reel as the credits rolled on Hong Kong’s TV coverage. It was the highlight that, a few days from the match, still triggers fond memories. It was the unforgettable minute that saw a dedicated Twitter account set up and a chant devised just for it.

It was the Anfield Cat.

It is telling that, in a match billed as a huge encounter, potentially a statement of intent for the Top Four from Liverpool or for the title from Spurs, a stray cat remains the sole takeaway from the Anfield clash.

Perhaps it was because of the solid goalkeeping on display. Brad Friedel, still going strong at 40, remains reliable as ever and proved that he remains one of the best in the Premier League with a consistent, commanding performance in the Tottenham box. Pepe Reina kept yet another clean sheet, his highlight being his good stop from Gareth Bale’s one-on-one chance at the death.

Perhaps it was because of the impressive performances from both defences. Glen Johnson, filling in for the allegedly injured Jose Enrique, and Martin Kelly snuffed out Spurs’ wing threats in Niko Kranjcar and Gareth Bale. Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger continued their status as one of the league’s premier defensive partnerships with yet another assured display.

In white, Kyle Walker proved that he has the defensive responsibilities of a top-quality full-back down pat, quieting the often-voracious Craig Bellamy, whereas Michael Dawson and Ledley King delivered a solid performance in the heart of defence.

Perhaps, too, it was because of the stifling and overcrowded midfield. Dirk Kuyt went about his business as usual, harassing and harassing Tottenham with his famous workrate as a defensive winger. Scott Parker did the same as a defensive shield for Tottenham, breaking up play and reclaiming possession.

With two midfield destroyers working to such good effect, it was little wonder that the rest of their colleagues in the middle of the park couldn’t find any space to work with. Charlie Adam looked for passes long and short, but was limited by the lack of space to find. Craig Bellamy was shunted out wide by the efforts of Walker and Parker, and couldn’t use his pace and direct running as he has done so effectively in recent weeks.

Jay Spearing, already boasting limited vision, creativity and passing range, broke down Liverpool’s own attacks with misplaced passes to nowhere. Steven Gerrard missed the mobility of a roaming, pacy, unpredictable striker as he was continuously suffocated and found his long shots blocked time and again. The same applied to Luka Modric and co.

And then, perhaps it was because of the toothless attacking. Emmanuel Adebayor had probably his least effective game for Spurs, starved of the kind of quality service and incisive support he has become so accustomed to. Andy Carroll worked hard, got into good positions and won headers against the considerably imposing Dawson, but his layoffs and second balls found no one present in the Spurs box.

So the search goes on for a clear win at Anfield, for someone to provide a spark when Liverpool most need it. With Carroll continuing his recent improvement and Luis Suarez returning, the Gerrard-Suarez-Carroll front three (possibly adding in Bellamy) should pose problems for many a Premier League defence – but only if Liverpool learn to play a pass-and-move style with, not despite, our #9.

90 minutes after the excellent Michael Oliver blew his whistle for kickoff, the solitary point seemed so anticlimactic, but so normal from an Anfield encounter.

The icing on the cake, of course, was that Liverpool’s official website deemed the unimpressive Jay Spearing as their man of the match, a just outcome from a forgettable clash of the titans.