Tag Archives: English Premier League

Norwich vs. Liverpool: 6 Things We Learned from Reds’ Nervy Win

A brace from Raheem Sterling and a close-range finish from Luis Suarez were enough to hand Premier League title-chasing Liverpool a victory over relegation-threatened Norwich City, who put up a valiant effort and scored via Gary Hooper and Robert Snodgrass in a 3-2 thriller at Carrow Road on Sunday.
Sterling opened the scoring after just a few minutes into the match with a peach of a long-range strike, before his cross was perfectly placed to find Suarez, who finished for his 12th Premier League goal against the Canaries.
Hooper pounced on an unconvincing piece of goalkeeping from Simon Mignolet to give the hosts a deserved goal after a period of sustained pressure in the second half, before Sterling ran the length of the field to score a second, albeit via a deflection.

Snodgrass’ emphatic header gave Norwich renewed hope, but the final whistle sounded with the Reds notching an 11th straight victory to go five points above second-placed Chelsea and nine above Manchester City, who have two games in hand.

Here are six things we learned from Liverpool’s nervy but important win on Sunday. Enjoy and have your say in the comments below.

 

Raheem Sterling, Rising Star

Raheem Sterling, Rising Star
Michael Regan/Getty ImagesLiverpool’s victory on Sunday was all about Raheem Sterling: He scored two goals—the first a sumptuous moment of brilliance, the second a result of perseverance—and provided a telling cross for Luis Suarez.

Sterling’s brace brought him to nine goals this Premier League season, his first full season in senior-level football—if this even counts as a “full” season, given his irregular game time at the beginning of the campaign.Getting to double figures for the season is a reflection of just one of the many areas that he has massively improved in the past few months. Add his strength on the ball and admirable defensive tenacity, and Liverpool have one of the most complete wingers in all of England.

To think that he is still 19 years old. If he continues in the same vein, Sterling could go down as one of Liverpool’s best ever.

 

Questionable Defending Once Again from Liverpool

Questionable Defending Once Again from Liverpool
Michael Regan/Getty Images 

When Liverpool surged two goals up in the first half, their fans, and even their players, could have been forgiven for thinking that this would turn out to be another multi-goal rout—and perhaps Suarez would be able to extend his hat-trick record against Norwich.

Not so. Liverpool’s own defending caused themselves so much trouble in the end.Credit must be given to Norwich for coming out of their half-time team talk reinvigorated, and they went at the visitors with a sense of renewed purpose and confidence.

But Simon Mignolet’s punch was far from convincing, which led to Gary Hooper’s goal. Meanwhile, Jon Flanagan should have done way better as a defender who was tasked with marking Robert Snodgrass, a winger, on a routine header from a cross.

Norwich’s pressing also forced Liverpool into numerous hesitant clearances from the back, which put the Reds’ back line under necessary pressure.

 

Brendan Rodgers, Pragmatist?

Brendan Rodgers, Pragmatist?
Michael Regan/Getty ImagesWhen Brendan Rodgers sent on Daniel Agger for Joe Allen late in the second half, it might be looked back upon as a key milestone in his career as Liverpool boss.

Long known for his philosophical and visionary approach to football, he changed tack and sent on an extra body in defence, looking to stifle Norwich’s growing momentum rather than pushing his team forward.Norwich wrestled the game back from Liverpool’s hands, eventually dominating the corner count, overtaking the visitors in terms of shots and even challenging the possession count, after a first half that saw Liverpool play like they were the home team.

But make no mistake: Rodgers will be delighted with the three points from Carrow Road and might even discard everything else. His newfound pragmatism is a sure sign that Liverpool are challenging for top honors right at the business end of the season.

 

Too Little, Too Late for Norwich City?

Too Little, Too Late for Norwich City?
Michael Regan/Getty ImagesThat Rodgers turned to Agger to shore up his defence late on against Norwich—a team Liverpool have recently enjoyed a stellar record against—showed everything about how the Canaries played on Sunday.

While their first-half display was far from convincing, they came out of the dressing room after half-time full of energy, confidence and attacking verve and took the game to Liverpool every opportunity they had.

Having spent last summer shelling out for new and highly rated acquisitions like Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Leroy Fer, Norwich City were supposed to finish more toward the mid-table places than toward the foot of the Premier League table.

Instead, they have struggled to find any sort of consistency all season, which has led to their current precarious position and the recent sacking of Chris Hughton.

Their effort against Liverpool was commendable, but with four mammoth fixtures against Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United to finish off their season, Norwich might have found their energy a little too late in the campaign.

 

Reds’ Lack of Squad Depth Highlighted

Reds’ Lack of Squad Depth Highlighted
Jamie McDonald/Getty ImagesYet again, this result might be yet another hard-fought performance that title winners “need to grind out despite not playing well,” as the cliche goes, but also yet again, this result highlights just how shallow Liverpool’s squad depth actually is.

Without Daniel Sturridge, they relied on Raheem Sterling to provide an attacking thrust and a driving edge, and while the No. 31 provided the match-winning moments for the Reds, late substitute Victor Moses offered nothing to show that he was once considered one of the best attacking prospects in all of England.Without Jordan Henderson, Liverpool lacked a meaningful and forceful presence in the final third of the pitch—a midfield runner who could transition their play into attack and make useful runs into the box.

In his place, Lucas offered nothing of note besides a few clumsy fouls and a shocking miss at the end of the match after Luis Suarez set up him with a golden chance to bring the visitors 4-2 up.

While Suarez has proved that he has the quality to lead the line as Liverpool’s lone striker, it might turn out that Henderson will be their biggest miss due to his suspension.

 

Liverpool vs. Chelsea Is the Biggest Game This Season

Liverpool vs. Chelsea Is the Biggest Game This Season
Michael Regan/Getty Images 

Saturday’s monumental result at Stamford Bridge, where Gus Poyet’s Sunderland delivered a landmark 2-1 away win (which might yet impact Norwich’s survival status this season), cast the spotlight squarely on Liverpool, who responded accordingly (if not at all emphatically).

Five points separate Chelsea and Liverpool with three matches left to play, while the Reds lead third-placed Manchester City by nine points—though Manuel Pellegrini’s side have two matches in hand.Steven Gerrard said in his post-match interview after the breathless victory over Manchester City that Norwich City would be Liverpool’s biggest game of the season.

While the Liverpool hierarchy will carry the same narrative through the remaining three games, Chelsea’s visit to Anfield next weekend is undoubtedly the match of the season.

It will set the tone for the rest of the title race, and while Liverpool have plenty to look forward to at Anfield and on the back of a stellar winning run, Jose Mourinho has enjoyed an excellent record against the Reds in the league over the years—and his midfield will pose a considerable threat to a Henderson-less Liverpool.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

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Is a European Super League an Inevitable Next Step in World Football?

The past couple of weeks in European football have thrown up some interesting scenarios, perhaps unthinkable just a few years ago, which have thrown into question the competitiveness and balance even in the leading domestic leagues around Europe.

When Chelsea loaned Thibaut Courtois, then one of the hottest goalkeeping talents in the world, almost three years ago to Atletico Madrid, surely they didn’t expect to have to waive a contract clause at the prospect of facing their loanee in the Champions League semifinal.

When Borussia Dortmund won the Bundesliga and upset the status quo just a few years ago, surely they didn’t expect that a comprehensive 3-0 win over Bayern Munich in the league would mean as little as it just did, given that Pep Guardiola’s side had just become the quickest team ever to win the German championship.

These are but two incidents that have reflected the reality of European football these days (and there are many more—think Bayern’s ruthless snapping up of Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski from Dortmund, supposedly their closest rivals).

And the reality is that, while the top-tier leagues, especially in England with the Premier League, have started to break away from their lesser domestic competitions, those cream-of-the-crop clubs at the top of the European game have begun to form a mini exclusive club of their own.

Perhaps it’s time to consider not whether a European Super League would be a fun and interesting side project for club owners to think about, but whether it is actually an inevitable next step in world football.

 

Kerstin Joensson

 

Booming broadcast and television revenues

It’s hard to point a finger at a definitive starting point for this spiraling breakaway of the European elite, but BT Sport’s staggering £897 million three-year exclusive deal to broadcast live Champions League and Europa League games starting from 2015, announced last November via BBC Sport, is a good start.

Given the amount of money involved in the European game, it’s no surprise that the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool have made qualifying for the Champions League essentially a barometer of their season-to-season success in the Premier League.

Of course, it’s a cyclical game—perhaps even a snowball effect—in which money drives commercialization and encourages clubs and league administrators to package the sport as a “consumer product,” which focuses on entertainment value in the form of stadiums, overall team play and individual superstars, which boosts widespread interest and thus potential income, and so on.

But it’s not as if those involved in the beautiful game at the top level are trying their level best to keep the game devoid of any adverse effects from the money involved. Far from it.

Just this January, the Telegraph reported that the Premier League wanted to bring forth the next “auction” of football broadcasting rights by six months, which sources allegedly claimed was a show of “opportunism” from the league in “attempting to exploit the fierce competition between BSkyB and BT, and the resulting increase in the value of sports rights.”

As the game of football evolves at the top level and clubs become ever more like global corporations, even the ordinary football fan has evolved into being a consumer from their clubs’ point of view.

And how do businesses engage with their consumers? By providing high-quality goods (in this case, high-quality performances with a dose of superstardom, delivered at every broadcast opportunity across every possible channel).

A further case illustrating the financial explosion of the modern game once again focuses on the aggressive increase of Premier League prize money: A Telegraph report in May 2013 mentioned that Manchester United’s £60.8 million in TV money, a record sum for a Premier League champion, would be eclipsed the following season by the club that finishes bottom of the league because of new broadcasting deals.

 

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

 

Exponential inflation of player valuations

The sheer amount of money involved in top-level football highlights the indispensability of the sport to TV networks and channels, which in turn drives up their bids to carry these matches.

But from both the clubs’ and the fans’ points of view, this is merely a reflection of an ever-increasing and ever-vociferous demand for the sport—especially as clubs and leagues are becoming more business-savvy and expanding into markets never previously thought lucrative or even possible.

Which means that top-level footballers and top-level coaches, who turn top-level footballers into top-level teams on the pitch, gradually become a premium commodity to be traded to those willing to shell out a fortune in anticipation of the potential upsides.

And so we have eye-watering deals like Gareth Bale’s world record transfer from Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid, who themselves set the previous record by signing Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United. And vastly inflated contracts like Wayne Rooney’s new extension at Old Trafford, which reportedly will land him a mammoth £300,000 a week, per BBC Sport.

Suddenly, the prevalence of money in the modern game has made it an essential part of both player decisions and transfer strategies. Players appoint ruthless agents to extract the best deal for themselves and their clients, while clubs head towards the murky waters of outbidding each other for star names.

The supply line has just shot up in value.

And those organizations who can afford to shell out the big bucks to procure such mercurial and overpriced talent—some through the generosity of a well-off benefactor—become the most important players in the financial game of football.

It’s no surprise, then, that Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski put forth in Soccernomics that football clubs in capital cities are best positioned to dominate the European game in the future: Take the financial “capital” in the cities and you instantly have the most powerful hybrids of money, geography and power across football clubs in Europe.

 

Marc Mueller

 

A whole new, exclusive playing field

Where does this bring us?

On the one hand, the growing demand of top-level football means that there will only ever be greater sums of money spent by fans and reflected in megadeals between leagues, clubs and broadcasters.

On the other hand, the explosion of player valuations means that agents will continue to grow in prominence and importance, while player power will entrench itself as an institutional concept in modern football—and only a handful of football clubs are even equipped to handle such major deals.

Which essentially means that the footballing world is their oyster.

As players vie to get into those clubs as a sign of their ability and ambition and as clubs strive to either maintain their place in that elite group or try their utmost to break into the oligarchy, a whole new, exclusive playing field has taken form for the big boys up top.

La Liga has traditionally been the easiest and most glaring example of a “top two” league, with Barcelona and Real Madrid maintaining a hegemony on proceedings in Spain until Atletico burst onto the scene this season, while recently Bayern Munich has become a textbook example of just how far a first-placed team can pull away from its closest challenger.

Sooner or later, as egos, ambitions and competitiveness are wont to trump all in sport, these big players will yearn for a platform where they can pit their wits against each other on a regular basis, to claim a title that will truly prove their dynasties.

The concept of a European Super League suddenly doesn’t sound so far-fetched after all. In fact, it almost sounds as if it’s going to be the next big evolution in world football.

And just as TV networks have continued to scramble for big broadcasting deals just to get a slice of the ever-growing pie, football clubs not yet in the “Super League” category will fight tooth and nail, and spend an arm and a leg to try to get there.

There will be plenty of new entertainment for football fans—and plenty of inadvertent and unfortunate financial casualties as well.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Comparing Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling, Coutinho with Aguero, Dzeko, Silva, Nasri

A few things have changed since Premier League fans were debating between three of its all-star strike partnerships this season: David Moyes has failed to unlock the potential of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, Alvaro Negredo has seen his starting place usurped at times by Edin Dzeko and we’ve come to recognise the brilliance of entire forward lines, not just that of two strikers.

And so these days, instead of choosing between Manchester United’s Van Persie and Rooney, Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, and Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo, we’re now left to pick between the all-star attacking quartets of Liverpool and City.

Specifically: Suarez, Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho versus Aguero, Dzeko, David Silva and Samir Nasri.

As we look ahead to Sunday’s clash between Liverpool and Manchester City at Anfield—billed as a title decider—we’re not just considering the impact of the result on the title race, we’re also looking forward to seeing the league’s two most prolific attacks going at each other in what promises to be an open, exciting and pulsating match.

Here, we’ve compiled a fun comparison between the two forward lines across five categories—investment, potency, creativity, consistency and potential—before we arrive at our own conclusion on which is the better strike force. Enjoy and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Investment

Investment

Michael Steele/Getty Images

First, let’s compare how the strike forces were assembled and for what price.

 

Liverpool

Luis Suarez: £22.8 million, from Ajax Amsterdam.
Daniel Sturridge: £12 million, from Chelsea.
Raheem Sterling: £600,000 (potentially £5 million, depending on performances), from Queens Park Rangers.
Philippe Coutinho: £8.5 million, from Internazionale.

Total: £43.9 million (potentially £48.3 million).

 

Manchester City

Sergio Aguero: £38 million, from Atletico Madrid.
Edin Dzeko: £27 million, from Wolfsburg.
David Silva: £24 million, from Valencia.
Samir Nasri: £25 million, from Arsenal.

Total: £114 million.

 

Summary

In signing undervalued players with potential—Raheem Sterling is the standout purchase here, having signed for Liverpool aged just 15—Liverpool have made some shrewd acquisitions who have blossomed under the tutelage of Brendan Rodgers.

Coutinho and Sturridge in particular were players on the sidelines at their previous clubs who are starting to realise their full potential. Indeed, both players have transformed the club’s attacking fortunes since arriving at Anfield just over a year ago.

Manchester City, on the other hand, have opted to sign big, established names from leagues around Europe, fighting off stiff competition from top clubs to land their targets. In doing so, besides the initial outlay in terms of the transfer fees, all four players are on stellar wage packages, making them even more expensive as an overall financial investment.

That said, it’s hard to argue with their success at City—for it was Dzeko and Aguero who scored the two goals in injury time that won the club their first ever Premier League title in 2012.

 

Verdict: Liverpool

When it comes to initial investment, however, there was only ever going to be one clear winner here, a conclusion that might not have needed the above breakdown as justification. Liverpool win this round hands down.

 

Potency

Potency

Clive Mason/Getty Images

Attackers need to score goals. This category is all about league goals scored, and how important they are to their respective teams going forward.

 

Liverpool

Suarez: 29 goals in 28 games.
Sturridge: 20 goals in 25 games.
Sterling: Six goals in 28 games.
Coutinho: Four goals in 28 games.

Total: 59 goals this season.

 

Manchester City

Aguero: 15 goals in 17 games.
Dzeko: 11 goals in 24 games.
Silva: Six goals in 22 games.
Nasri: Five goals in 27 games.

Total: 37 goals this season.

 

Summary

In terms of just goal-scoring output this season, the above comparison might be a bit surprising for some, considering Liverpool and Manchester City are both flying high in the Premier League “goals for” column.

The combined total of 59 goals from Liverpool’s attacking quartet, out of their staggering total of 90, means that almost two-thirds of all the club’s goals have come from these four players. Add Steven Gerrard’s 13 to the mix and you have 80 per cent of all goals coming from five players.

Contrast that with City’s foursome, who have contributed just 37 goals out of their 84-goal total. Yaya Toure, who mainly operates as a central, box-to-box midfielder, is a glaring omission with his club-high haul of 18, while Alvaro Negredo has contributed a respectable return of nine thus far. Still, that’s just 76 per cent of all goals coming from six key players.

Injuries and squad options have had a large say as well—barring Daniel Sturridge’s mid-season injury, which deprived him of some game time, all of the Reds’ forwards have notched their goals in a 28-game season thus far. A quick glance at City’s shows the fewer games they have managed, in particular Sergio Aguero, who is still an injury doubt for Sunday’s clash.

 

Verdict: Liverpool

All of which means that, yes, Liverpool’s four forwards have the more impressive goal return, in terms of numbers and percentage of their club’s overall goals scored. It also means, however, that City have more options spread across the squad—which may yet be a deciding factor in where the Premier League trophy lands this May.

 

Creativity

Creativity

Paul Thomas/Getty Images

Now let’s see how they stack up in terms of creativity, which we’ll simplify into two categories: assists and chances created. (All statistics courtesy of Squawka.com.)

 

Liverpool

Suarez: 11 assists, 77 chances created.
Sturridge: Seven assists, 27 chances created.
Sterling: Three assists, 38 chances created.
Coutinho: Six assists, 51 chances created.

Total: 27 assists, 193 chances created.

 

Manchester City

Aguero: Five assists, 27 chances created.
Dzeko: One assist, 14 chances created.
Silva: Nine assists, 77 chances created.
Nasri: Five assists, 55 chances created.

Total: 20 assists, 173 chances created.

 

Summary

A close match, especially adjusting for the number of games played by each member here.

Suarez is the clear standout, both with the highest number of outright assists and with a chance creation record similar to that of a world-class playmaker like David Silva—which goes great lengths to show the phenomenal season that the Uruguayan striker is having.

When it comes to the supporting attackers, however, the numbers become more interesting. Despite having more games between them, Sterling and Coutinho only combine for 89 chances created, while Silva and Nasri have an impressive total of 132, which explains the dominant position City have held for most of the season in terms of total goals scored, and hints at what could have been for them had Aguero stayed fit for most of it.

 

Verdict: Tie

We had a hard time choosing a winner here, so we’re going for the easy option—a tie. If Aguero had stayed fit for the majority of the season and played in as many games as the rest of his attacking partners, City could well have won this category by a mile.

As it stands, though, both sides seem to have creativity bursting at the seams, which can only be a good thing ahead of Sunday’s match.

 

Consistency

Consistency

Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

Now for a category that is much harder to be backed purely by numbers and statistics. In evaluating consistency, we look for the contributions by the forwards on a week-to-week basis over the course of the season thus far.

 

Liverpool

It’s been an exhilarating campaign for the Reds, by almost all measures. At the base of it, their current first-placed position in the league table says it all—Liverpool have already overachieved this season.

Crucial to this excellent league performance has been Luis Suarez’s outstanding consistency. Despite missing his first five matches of the season through suspension, he has been an ever-present and even set a new record for league goals scored in one calendar month back in December. Daniel Sturridge carried the team on his back during Suarez’s early-season absence and stormed back to action after an injury layoff by scoring in eight matches in a row.

By the high standards he set for himself in the second half of the 2012/13 Premier League campaign, Coutinho has not quite performed to them this season. In contrast, this has very much been a breakout campaign for Raheem Sterling, who has cemented his place in the first team after a series of strong and mature displays since December.

 

Manchester City

Just as Suarez has set the bar for consistent excellence this year, Aguero has disappointed with his injury troubles. A league campaign that threatened to feature two genuinely world-class strikers running away in the scoring charts—much like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo do in La Liga—has now resulted in a one-sided affair.

That Manuel Pellegrini has rotated between Alvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko means that there hasn’t been much consistency in terms of Aguero’s strike partner—Negredo’s skill set clearly complements Aguero well, but in Aguero’s absence, Negredo and Dzeko have yet to set the league on fire.

The same applies for David Silva, who has shown flashes of brilliance at times this season and is rediscovering a good patch of form of late, but has also been beset by injuries. Samir Nasri is the flag-bearer for consistency in the City forward line this year, having shown a massive improvement in both attitude and attacking contribution since Roberto Mancini’s departure.

 

Verdict: Liverpool

Suarez’s performance levels this season are arguably enough to make Liverpool winners in this category on his own. Aguero might have run him close, given his outstanding record when fit at the start of the season, but his injuries have robbed City of any chance of coming close to the Reds here.

 

Potential

Potential

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Since there isn’t a set formula to calculate potential return—both in terms of attacking contribution over the coming years and indeed in the amount of money the clubs could receive if they decide to sell these players—we’ll simply consider the current age and go from there.

 

Liverpool

One of the many things that has stood out from Brendan Rodgers’ achievements this season is how young his squad currently is. The attacking quartet of Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling and Coutinho has an average age of just 22.75 years, which is both supremely encouraging from the club’s standpoint and also extremely exciting for the Premier League.

That Rodgers has gotten such a young team—don’t forget the relative youth of Simon Mignolet, Jon Flanagan, Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson—to fire their way to the top of the Premier League is a big testament to his philosophy and vision at Anfield.

 

Manchester City

With an average age of 26.75 years, City’s forward line can be rightly regarded as entering its prime. That Aguero, aged just 25, has, when fit, run 27-year-old Suarez so close speaks volumes of the potential of the Argentinian striker, who still has a few years to go at the top level just yet.

The same can be said of Silva and Nasri, who have exhibited the tenacity to show that they can still perform at peak level for a few years still, but Dzeko’s status as the oldest among all contenders here, and the fact that his future at the club is still up in the air adds an element of instability.

 

Verdict: Liverpool

The four-year difference in average age is so considerable, it’s almost shocking to think what this Liverpool attack will be capable of in a few years’ time, when they collectively arrive at City’s level. That Liverpool signed all four of their forwards at prices arguably lower than market value also makes their potential resale value much higher than City’s from a profit margin standpoint.

 

Conclusion

Conclusion

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

From our verdicts across five categories here, Liverpool emerge as the clear winners in an attack-against-attack comparison with Manchester City.

They’ve signed their forwards at a relatively younger age, meaning that both the initial investment and the potential return are much higher, while their output and consistency are no doubt the more impressive of the two.

City come close in creativity, hinting that their season has been dampened by a very significant factor—the ongoing injury troubles of Sergio Aguero.

It’s intriguing to think how City would shape up here if Aguero had remained fit to complete a whole season—perhaps Pellegrini’s men would really be out of sight in the “goals for” column in the Premier League.

As it stands, however, it’s the 90-goal Reds hosting the 84-goal Blues at Anfield this Sunday. The imminent return of Sergio Aguero (per the Mirror), however, makes it that bit more interesting.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Scouting Reported Liverpool Transfer Target Lazar Markovic

With Champions League football almost secured for next season, Liverpool have set their sights on an outright title challenge. With this newfound status among the upper echelons of the Premier League, the Reds have found themselves linked with a host of transfer targets this summer.

Among the latest names in the rumor mill is Benfica’s Lazar Markovic, who is reportedly the subject of a £20 million bidding war between Liverpool and Chelsea, according to Alan Nixon of the Mirror.

Having seen two high-profile moves for attacking midfielders Mohamed Salah and Yevhen Konoplyanka fall through in January, Brendan Rodgers is still rumored to be in the market for reinforcements up front, and Markovic certainly falls into that category.

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

 

Armando Franca

 

Pros

With his exciting dribbling and goal-scoring ability from midfield, it’s no surprise that Markovic made his senior debut for Partizan at the tender age of 17.

In fact, so impressive was his first season in Partizan’s colors that he was voted their Player of the Year on the club’s website back in 2011.

An encouraging performance in the Europa League against Internazionale in 2012 prompted then-Nerazzurri boss Andrea Stramaccioni to publicly praise the Serbian, according to Goal.com, saying, “He is a player with exceptional qualities. He possesses a very impressive acceleration and has a bright future ahead of him.”

Besides a quick turn of pace and a bag of tricks in his locker, Markovic is also composed in the finish and has a penchant for the unpredictable, much like a certain Luis Suarez at Anfield.

Having started his career as more of a conventional attacking midfielder, he has often been played in a striking or wing role since moving to Benfica, making use of his speed and dribbling to bamboozle opposition defences.

In that respect, he seems to combine the lightness of feet and quick-thinking creativity of Philippe Coutinho with the confidence and unpredictability of Suarez and would be comfortable playing across the front three.

 

Cons

Despite having a set of skills that make him a formidable opponent on paper, Markovic has yet to cement a place in Jorge Jesus’ starting XI, suggesting that he hasn’t found the consistency and maturity required to start week in, week out in a top-tier European league.

Standing at 5’9”, Markovic is relatively slight in frame and would only add to a Liverpool team that is not generally known for its physical and aerial dominance—though a low center of gravity compensates for that immeasurably.

A key point to note is the rumor of a release clause put in place by Benfica and Chelsea that suggests that the Stamford Bridge club would be able to sign him for a cheaper £12.5 million fee, according to Jonny Singer of the Daily Mail.

 

EuroFootball/Getty Images

 

Potential Role at Liverpool

With his pace, trickery, first touch and finishing, Lazar Markovic seems to have all the tools required to succeed in Brendan Rodgers’ young and dynamic Liverpool team.

Rodgers’ man management skills have been publicly lauded by many of his players this season, and Markovic will only need to look at the impressive development of the likes of Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson to know that if he does end up at Anfield, his future will be in good hands.

However, he is still a relative novice on the international stage and is very much a raw gem rather than the finished product, which does not necessarily represent the best option for Liverpool at the moment, especially if they head into next season having secured a top-three place and automatic qualification for the Champions League group stage.

And if the rumors of a potential release clause for Chelsea are true—or a first option, as reported by Jack Gaughan of the Daily Mail—the Reds might end up having to pay a fee much larger than £12.5 million, which wouldn’t be ideal for the Anfield club.

Given Markovic’s similarity to Coutinho and Suarez, shelling out for him would have to be a careful consideration—or a huge endorsement of his raw potential.

 

Conclusion

That Markovic is one of Europe’s hottest attacking talents should be established. His frequent links with both Chelsea and Liverpool are well-deserved given his scintillating displays over the past few years with both Partizan and Benfica.

That he would add to almost any Premier League team is also a given considering his skill set and capabilities on the ball. His playing style would see him slot seamlessly into Liverpool’s enterprising and relentlessly attacking brand of football.

But given what Liverpool need this summer, the amount of money it would cost them to bring him to Anfield and the presence of Coutinho, Suarez and a few other exciting young attacking talents, the transfer funds that would be put to Markovic’s transfer would be better used to address other deficiencies in the Liverpool squad—or toward a signing that would instantly upgrade their first team.

Markovic, for now, should be a luxury option to be targeted only if the rest of the squad has been upgraded.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

West Ham United 1-2 Liverpool: 6 Things We Learned from Reds’ Tense Win

Two Steven Gerrard penalties were enough to give Liverpool a precious win over West Ham United at Upton Park on Sunday, as the Reds climbed back to the top of the Premier League table with five matches to go.

James Tomkins’ handball against Luis Suarez and Hammers goalkeeper Adrian’s foul on Jon Flanagan gave Gerrard the opportunity to notch a brace from the spot, while Liverpool’s goals were sandwiched by a Guy Demel finish as Andy Carroll’s foul on Simon Mignolet went unnoticed.

It was a cagey affair, with Sam Allardyce’s men displaying yet again their infamous physical style of football in a valiant attempt to stifle the creativity and fluidity of Brendan Rodgers’ side. But the visitors did enough to hold on for all three points.

Here are six things we learned from Liverpool’s tense win over West Ham. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

A Show of Resilience from the Reds

A Show of Resilience from the Reds

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Not every match this season can be a four-goal demolition like Liverpool’s emphatic win over Tottenham Hotspur just a week ago, but it’s not the first time the Reds have ground out a much-needed win.

Away victories against the likes of Fulham and Stoke City come to mind, and Brendan Rodgers can rightly feel proud of his charges after another battling display at a traditionally difficult ground to visit.

It was far from vintage Liverpool, as West Ham’s closing down and clearing of their lines were enough to stifle the visitors’ attack. But Liverpool’s patience and insistence at finding the right moment and space to break through the Hammers defence yielded the two all-important penalties.

Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho—starting in place of the injured Daniel Agger—put on a show of commanding defending against the expected aerial bombardment of West Ham, and together with substitute Kolo Toure, they held on despite a nervy ending at Upton Park.

 

Steven Gerrard, the Coolest Customer in Town

Steven Gerrard, the Coolest Customer in Town

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

After all these years, where, still, would Liverpool be without Steven Gerrard?

His brace from the spot made it double digits for the Reds skipper this season from penalties alone, and they also took him past Kenny Dalglish in the Liverpool all-time scoring charts.

Besides the composure he displayed in dispatching two excellently clinical penalties, Gerrard also showed an ever-increasing ease in his newfound holding midfield role, as he dictated play from deep within the Liverpool half.

It was his sumptuous cross-field pass, of course, that set Luis Suarez on his way to winning the visitors’ first penalty. But it was all down to Gerrard after that to make sure they took their chances.

As usual, he delivered with aplomb.

 

Contrasting Fortunes for ‘SAS’

Contrasting Fortunes for 'SAS'

Julian Finney/Getty Images

It’s a testament to Luis Suarez’s brilliant form this season that his performance on Sunday could be considered disappointing, despite him winning Liverpool’s first penalty and hitting the crossbar twice.

But by the standards of any Premier League striker, Suarez already put in a blinder of a shift up front for Liverpool on Sunday, and his two audacious efforts—both of which hit the Hammers crossbar—deserved to go in from the sheer brilliance of his improvisation.

By contrast, Daniel Sturridge’s quiet form has continued for a second week running. A subdued performance against Tottenham last weekend was followed by an uninspiring display on Sunday, featuring a few hurried shots that he would normally have buried.

While a fit and firing Suarez should be more than enough for Premier League defences to deal with—especially with a confident and ever-developing Raheem Sterling alongside him—Brendan Rodgers could do with a resurgent Daniel Sturridge for the end-of-season run-in.

Starting with the titular clash against Manchester City next week.

 

Once Again, the Referee Takes Center Stage

Once Again, the Referee Takes Center Stage

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Not for the first time this season, the match referee has grabbed the spotlight in a Liverpool match.

On this occasion, it was Anthony Taylor, who appeared to have overruled his linesman and awarded Guy Demel’s goal right on the stroke of half-time.

Andy Carroll’s flagrant punch at Simon Mignolet’s head was apparently spotted by the linesman, who seemed to have flagged right away for an infringement of the goalkeeper, but Taylor ruled the goal to be legitimate, much to Liverpool’s chagrin.

Ultimately, it didn’t make too much of a difference to the end result, but it could’ve been a decision to derail the Reds’ title challenge.

And that’s not even mentioning a contentious decision to award Liverpool a penalty after Adrian’s challenge on Jon Flanagan.

 

West Ham Fans Have Every Right to Expect Better

West Ham Fans Have Every Right to Expect Better

Julian Finney/Getty Images

A couple of weeks ago, Upton Park rang out in boos despite West Ham beating Hull City 2-1, which was met with derision by Sam Allardyce, as reported by BBC Sport.

It was alleged at the time, according to Jacob Steinberg of The Guardian, that the Hammers supporters were fed up with Allardyce’s direct and physical playing style, and on current evidence, perhaps the West Ham faithful have a point.

With the backs-to-the-wall defending that they employed in a home fixture and the rough playing style they adopted against the Liverpool defence, West Ham’s performance certainly didn’t make for any entertaining viewing.

For the self-styled “Academy of Football,” West Ham’s current approach doesn’t seem in line with their history and traditions—but they’ve practically secured their all-important Premier League status for another season.

 

Liverpool Have Just Enough to Return to the Summit

Liverpool Have Just Enough to Return to the Summit

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

With five matches to go, Liverpool find themselves back at the top of the table after a Premier League weekend that saw both Manchester City and Chelsea notch convincing wins.

Liverpool are currently on 74 points—two ahead of second-placed Chelsea—and on a nine-match winning run, which makes next Sunday’s match against Manchester City all the more pivotal to either side’s title hopes this season.

That Liverpool have discovered a newfound mental strength and resoluteness has been a tried and tested theory this season, but they will need to display the kind of rearguard action that they did this Sunday for the rest of the campaign if they are to come out on top.

The underlying narrative doesn’t change, though: Win all their remaining games, and Liverpool will win the league.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

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.