Monday, 23 July 2012

Liverpool Draw With Toronto FC In Pre-season Friendly

Adam Morgan celebrates his equalizer (John Powell/Getty Images)
Liverpool faced Toronto FC on July 21st 2012 in their first game under new manager Brendan Rodgers. The game, a preseason friendly, was played in Toronto, Canada at the Rogers Centre.

Rodgers had in his first press conference on taking the coaching mantle promised a different approach to Liverpool's game: a more pressing system with emphasis on ball retention and midfield dominance. Liverpool did not disappoint.

The Reds started with some unfamiliar youngsters on the pitch, Nathan Eccleston, Andre Wisdom, 16-year-old Jordon Ibe (formerly of Wycombe Wanderers) and Daniel Pacheco started with regulars Jamie Carragher (captain), Charlie Adam - who was back after a long injury lay off, Jay Spearing and Jose Enrique. Alberto Aquilani and Brad Jones in goal also featured in the first half.

The game started on a fast tempo with Liverpool's game play evident from the onset. Neat triangles started off by Brad Jones were replicated all over the length of the pitch as Liverpool dominated possession in a manner not so familiar to Liverpool fans. In the first few minutes the Toronto players were busy chasing shadows. The statistics confirmed this with Liverpool notching up 75% of possession in the first quarter hour.

Toronto FC were however the first to fashion a shot on goal. A speculative cross in the 7th minute split the Liverpool defence and it took a superb one handed save by Brad Jones to keep the scores at 0-0. Business returned to usual after this scare and the Liverpool team settled into a regular pattern of systematic one touch possession football for most of the remainder of the first half.

It is one thing to hog possession but a different prospect all together in making use of this possession. Jay Spearing acted as the fulcrum of the Liverpool midfield from a defensive midfield position quietly and confidently spraying passes to all corners of the park. He was ably assisted in this department by Aquilani who was himself deployed in an offensive midfield role. Such was the assurance on the ball by Liverpool players that the first misplaced pass was by Jose Enrique in the 22nd minute.

Daniel Pacheco played quite well in the first half showing his repertoire of skills when he ghosted past two defenders in the 14th minute. Liverpool's first attempt at goal came courtesy of a superb 40-yard cross by Charlie Adam which Eccleston just failed to connect to.

In a bid to stymie the possession football being displayed by Liverpool the Toronto FC tactician Paul Mariner made a tactical change in the 28th minute bringing in Tyler Pasher for Ashtone Morgan in a bid to contain Ibe who was having a good time on the right flank. The first half ended 0-0.

Liverpool's starting 11 vs Toronto FC (
 In the 2nd half Liverpool made a host of changes: Gulacsi in goal, Robinson, Flanagan, Shelvey, Skrtel, Jesus 'Suso' Fernandez, Danny Wilson, Raheem Sterling, Krisztian Adorjan, Adam Morgan and Joe Cole all coming in.

Liverpool continued to dominate possession as had been the case in the first half. Raheem Sterling provided the width on the left and on several occasions combined well with Suso but failed to craft the killer pass in the final third.

The midfield was however a bit edgy and the second half saw a few misplaced passes especially by Jonjo Shelvey who had taken up the role of Spearing in the middle of the park. It took the introduction of Lucas Leiva in place of Adorjan in the 74th minute to calm matters.
Against the run of play Toronto FC struck first. New signing Quincy Amarikwa pounced on a rebound after a poor punch out by Liverpool 'keeper Gulacsi from a Sergio Carmago shot and calmly slotted the ball in the back of the net handing Toronto the lead. The pace and skill of 2nd half substitute Josh Janniere on the right flank posed a few problems for the Liverpool defence after the opener before he was surprisingly substituted in the 76th minute.

In the 66th minute Suso mesmerized four Toronto FC players as he dribbled past them but his snap shot was well caught. 17 year old Raheem Sterling who had been a constant thorn in the Toronto defence finally brought parity when his pass/shot in the 70th minute set up Adam Morgan who had a simple tap in. Morgan's wild celebration of his first senior Liverpool goal showed how much the goal meant to him.

The game tapered off after the equalizing goal and both teams seemed content with a 1-1 draw which was the end result after the 90 minutes.

Liverpool did not field new signing Fabio Borini nor first team seniors Luis Suarez, Glen Johnson, Stewart Downing and Steven Gerrard to the disappointment of the fairly large crowd that had gathered to watch the game. This was however not entirely un-expected. Brendan Rodgers would have been looking at giving a run out to his academy players whilst giving some match time to the senior players who were coming off injuries such as Lucas Leiva and Charlie Adam.

The absence of Andy Carroll however spoke volumes as it would have been expected that he would have been given the opportunity to impress the new manager in the team's first outing. Liverpool seem quietly determined to offload him to the highest bidder.

Overall the Liverpool performance was acceptable. The academy youngsters gave a fairly good account of themselves. The 4-3-3 formation that Brendan Rodgers prefers seems to have taken root in the team. The players seem comfortable with the new variant of play that the manager has introduced. The possession football displayed by Liverpool was not the languid passing style of Barcelona but more of the high tempo pass and press system that had been used by the Spanish National team to good effect at Euro 2012.

There is still a lot to be done however especially defensively. On a few occasions especially in the 2nd half the back four were caught napping and a more polished outfit than the Toronto team would have capitalized on these mistakes. One may however argue in Liverpool's defence that the team on show was an experimental team and the first choice back four would have given a better account of themselves.

Rodgers will take a number of positives from his first game in charge. The early signs are good and Liverpool fans can expect progressive growth on the basis of the Red's performance in their first pre-season friendly.

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Tuesday, 17 July 2012


Courtesy Google images

English Premier League clubs Liverpool, Stoke and Queens Park Rangers are rumoured to be chasing the signature of Celtic midfielder Victor Wanyama. The 21-year-old Kenyan international joined Celtic in July 2011 and has been a revelation for Neil Lennon's side since he made his debut appearance for the club.

Liverpool did not live up to expectations last season and finished a disappointing eighth in the final standings. Much of Liverpool's problems stemmed from the fact that goals were hard to come by and save for Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez, the rest of the Liverpool strikers were blunt in attack.

It can be argued that the deficiency of goals was a result of an ineffective midfield with the consequent effect being a shortage in supply of quality balls to the strikers.

Wanyama plays as a defensive midfielder or centre back at Celtic but it is primarily in the defensive midfield role that Brendan Rodgers would want to deploy him. Since the departure of Javier Mascherano to Barcelona, that position has been an achilles heel to the Reds and the club has failed to find a replacement, an effective defensive midfielder who can act as a fulcrum of the club's attacks.

With the expected return to fitness of Lucas Leiva, who until his injury had been a essential component of the Liverpool midfield, its coach Brendan Rodgers has been in the market looking for a quality midfielder. Wanyama would fit perfectly into the formation preferred by Rodgers that consists of attractive passing football with emphasis on ball retention and dominant midfield play.

Leon Britton under the tutelage of Rodgers at Swansea was the club's standout performer in the midfield. On average Britton completed about 100 passes per game and had an impressive pass rate success of 93%.
If Liverpool were to sign Wanyama he would be expected to play a similar role as performed by Britton for the Swans last season. This would require him to consistently be the focal point for Liverpool attacks from the midfield while protecting the back four from opposition forays. With Steven Gerrard also forming part of this midfield one would expect Liverpool to give a better account of themselves next season.

For Wanyama, joining the English Premier League will be a step up career wise. He performed remarkably well last season giving commanding performances in the Celtic midfield. He can also score goals after netting four times for the Celts despite his natural position being just ahead of the back four. Wanyama is also gifted with a keen eye and an intelligent mind and will no doubt be an excellent acquisition for Rodgers and Liverpool,

The asking price for Wanyama is expected to be in the region of about £7 million which on the basis of his performances this season would be a reasonable investment. Neil Lennon the Celtic head honcho is said to be upset at the suggestion that Wanyama may leave the club which in itself is a good pointer as to the player's capabilities.

With his confident approach to the game, on the ball composure and excellent distribution qualitiesWanyama will fit well into the Liverpool formation. It is also rumoured that Liverpool are eyeing Chelsea's Daniel Sturridge and with the signing of Roma striker Fabio Borini it is a clear statement of intent that Liverpool want to reclaim their position in the 'top four' next season.


Will Brendan Rodgers be an Anfield folk hero?

Since the tenure of legendary tactician Johan Cryuff and later Louis Van Gaal and Frank Rijkaard, Barcelona FC have dazzled the world with their intricate passing game. Tiki taka, as the system of play is now known, has captivated audiences all over the world.

Pleasing to the eye and enjoyable to watch, tiki taka is characterized by short passing movements and emphasis on maintaining possession. Andres Montes the late Spanish broadcaster is credited with coining the term whilst commentating during the 2006 World Cup.

The Spanish, also known masters of tiki taka, utilized an up-tempo form of the system at the recently concluded Euro 2012 with outstanding success.

Liverpool coach Brendan Rodgers has indicated that he wants to re-invent the system of play at Liverpool by introducing a variant of tiki taka.

While at Swansea, Rodgers was credited with turning the Swans into a cohesive unit. The constant pressing while off the ball and maintaining possession while with the ball earned Swansea many admirers. Wins against the Champions Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool proved that the continental system of play could be effective in the Premier League.

Swansea under Rodgers had a remarkable pass-accuracy percentage (85%) last season. They were sixth in the pass-accuracy statistics last season just behind continental giants Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Real Madrid and Chelsea.

Liverpool arguably has a more talented crop of players than Swansea. Logically, therefore Rodgers would be expected to achieve better and more significant results with the Reds.

There are no illusions about the tasks ahead. Rodgers has the singular burden of re-transforming a band of under achievers into the lethal machine that Liverpool once was.

To achieve this Rodgers will have to instill a new mind set in the side so as to enable the squad move from the traditional long punt and wing play associated with Liverpool's current game to the short passing system. In addition Tiki taka requires a significantly higher level of technical discipline which will be something that Rodgers will need to work on.

Liverpool has players who can easily adapt to this system. Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson, Lucas Leiva, Jonjo Shelvey, Charlie Adam, Luis Suarez, Jay Spearing among others all have the technical capability to quickly absorb this system into thier game plan.

However, Ii is doubtful that Andy Carroll will be able to perform at his best in such a system. Already rumours of his impending departure (denied by Liverpool at the moment) are rife with suggestions being made that Newcastle or West Ham may sign him up. Roma striker Fabio Borini has been touted as a replacement.

Rodgers will most certainly, in addition to recruiting a prolific striker, be required to sign up a creative/holding midfielder to supplement the efforts of Steven Gerrard and Leiva Lucas in the middle of the park. Leon Britton operating from a defensive midfield position performed remarkably well for the Swans last season. No doubt Rodgers will aspire to ensure that one of his midfielders replicates Britton's performances.

There is a sense of optimism at Anfield. For one of the biggest clubs in the world it is without a doubt the dawn of a new era. Rodgers is determined to put in place a model that will enable the club to grow. His football credentials in this respect are not in doubt.

For many it is now time for Liverpool to reclaim their position in the elite of English soccer. Will tiki taka be the solution to the woes that the mighty Reds have faced? Only time will tell. It is however evident that the Anfield faithful will require tremendous patience to allow the new Manager time to instill the new system of play at the club. One thing is certain however, beautiful football is coming back to Anfield.


Courtesy of Wikipedia
Theo Walcott is the latest player to be linked with a move to Liverpool.

The 23 year old currently plays for Arsenal.

Walcott is meeting the Arsenal top brass this week in an attempt to discuss with finality issues relating to his long term future at the club.
The last time a senior Arsenal player (Robin Van Persie) held such a discussion it ended up in an announcement that heralded the parting of ways between player and club. Many Arsenal fans will be hoping that this scenario will not replicate itself in Walcott's case as well.

Liverpool are keenly monitoring the discussions and seem ready to pounce if there is a stalemate. It is rumoured that the club may be willing to part with as much as 15 million pounds for Walcott's signature. Going by past experience this offer may be too much for Arsene Wenger to ignore. Chelsea are also in the frame having indicated that they would enter into a bidding war for the player with Liverpool if he decides to leave Arsenal.

Liverpool had a torrid time getting goals last season and relied heavily on Jose Enrique, Glen Johnson and at times Martin Kelly from the back to provide the width going forward. This was however at the expense of defending. Stewart Downing who was one of the players expected to fill in this position was largely ineffective last season as was Dirk Kuyt who has now left the club.

The younger players in the squad such as 18 year old starlet Raheem Sterling and 19 year old Jesus 'Suso' Fernandez (often touted as the new David Silva) though viable options for this position are still being groomed and hence the club needs an instant fix to alleviate this problem.

Theo Walcott is blessed with electric pace and dazzling on the ball skills. At Arsenal he is usually deployed on the right wing as a wide forward. He is also a proven goal scorer having scored 47 times for Arsenal so far and has also made 42 assists over the same period making him one of the most productive and prolific strikers in the English Premier League.

Former Arsenal seniors Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri indicated a lack of passion , focus and desire to win  trophies as a main reason as to why they chose to call time on their careers at the Emirates. This was also the main theme in Robin Van Persies statement when he confirmed that he would not renew his contract. Walcott may in the same vein feel that he stands a better chance of winning a trophy at Anfield than at the Emirates.

There is also the assurance of continuous first team football: Liverpool are expected to operate around a 4-3-3 formation that Rodgers deployed to good effect at Swansea last term. Walcott if signed will partner with Luis Suarez and Fabio Borini in a lethal set up that may just be the perfect attacking combination. This assurance will make a Liverpool bid more attractive than a Chelsea offer because Walcott's playing time will be severely limited at the Blues where there are several attacking options.

To consolidate the attacking positions Rodgers is believed to be interested in making an offer for talented play-maker and midfield maestro Joe Allen in a clear attempt to re-introduce an exciting brand of attacking football at Anfield this season. Walcott will be at home with the footballing philospohies adopted by Brendan Rodgers.

Having already signed up sensational Italian striker Fabio Borini Liverpool will want to build on that coup by making another big name signing. Walcott may just fit the bill.


Courtesy of Wikipedia
Liverpool has agreed on a fee of 12 million pounds with Roma for the signature of Fabio Borini. So what qualities made Rodgers decide to sign up Borini?

Fabio Borini may not be well known to many football fans who follow the English Premier League but the 21-year-old prodigy is already a seasoned player at the highest level.

The Italian international who previously played for Roma entered into the football scene at the tender age of nine years initially playing for Bologna in Italy before joining Chelsea in 2007 as a youth player at the age of 16 years.

Borini's talents blossomed at Chelsea where he played for the reserves and instantly became their top striker netting 10 times in 11 appearances including scoring 5 goals in one game against Birmingham in 2010. He also featured for Chelsea at the senior level in the Champions league.

At Chelsea Borini worked with current Liverpool coach Rodgers who was then reserve team manager before following him to then championship side Swansea on loan.He excelled at Swansea scoring six goals in 12 games thus helping the Swans secure promotion to the Premier League.                                                              

Borini joined Roma in the 2011-2012 season where he continued his excellent run of form quickly becoming a first team regular. He netted 16 times in the season for the Serie A side. His performances at club level earned him a call up to the national team for the Euro 2012 Championships.

The signing of Borini is a step in the right direction. Not only is he young and eager to learn but he is already an accomplished player even at his tender age. Borini is aggressive, has a quick turn of pace, an intelligent eye and is lethal before goal, so much so that he has been touted as the new Fillipo Inzaghi.

It will be expected that Borini will assist in netting goals for Liverpool next term. The lack of goals was a perennial problem for the Reds last season. With the departure of Dirk Kuyt and the misfiring tendencies of the Liverpool forwards save for Luis Suarez, the addition of a prolific goal scorer can only be beneficial to Liverpool.

It also helps that the player and the manager know each other well having worked together previously.

"Brendan Rodgers is a good manager and a great person who knows me very well. He is like an Uncle to me...." Borini said in 2011.

Andy Carroll may unfortunately end up being sidelined next season in favour of the Italian striker as the system of play that Rodgers wants to adopt at Anfield fits into Borini's strengths more than it does Carroll's. Either way the purchase of Borini is an astute investment.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The end of an era


“He is very intelligent and talented but most of all he is passionate about the game”
  Arsene Wenger talking about Robin Van Persie in 2009.

Robin Van Persie’s 2.75 million pound move from Eredivisie side Feyenoord to Arsenal in 2004 did not attract much attention. 8 years later his decision to depart from Arsenal, confirmed by the player himself on his website, has attracted world-wide attention.

Under the tutelage of Arsene Wenger Van Persie was moulded from a left winger to one of the most lethal strikers the world over.

In the 2011 calender year for example Van Persie scored 35 goals, just one short of Alan Shearer’s record of 36 for a calender year. In doing so he almost single handedly helped Arsenal to a credible 3rd place finish, a feat that was unthinkable just 6 months previously.

In the 2010-2011 season he became the first Premier league player to score in 9 consecutive away games, a feat that is yet to be equaled or surpassed.

Robin Van Persie’s playing career has unfortunately been dogged by injuries. In 2009 he suffered a career threatening injury in a friendly international that put him on the deck for 5 months.

More set backs were to follow as the supremely talented player was rarely utilized for an entire season due to numerous injuries. His injuries ranged from the unfortunate to the bizarre. In the 2006-2007 season for instance Van Persie fractured a metatarsal in his right foot, whilst celebrating a winning goal.

Yet as inevitably as the Sun rises from the East and sets in the West Van Persie would emerge from these setbacks sharper, focused and more lethal. One just can but speculate as to the heights that he would have achieved at Arsenal had he not been derailed time and time again by countless injuries.

Van Persie’s career blossomed once he was handed the captain’s armband in Arsenal in 2011. His first game in charge was disastrous, an 8-2 hiding by Manchester United, but thereafter he seemed to merge into the role exuding confidence and leading by example.

It seems Van Persie’s decision to leave Arsenal has been informed by the long trophy drought that Wenger’s boys have experienced since that sunny day when Patrick Vieira’s penalty handed them the 2005 FA Cup.

Probably the sight of his ex-colleagues Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas winning trophies in other clubs immediately after leaving Arsenal was a deciding factor.

Whatever the rationale behind his decision, at 28 years of age, Van Persie had very limited time to make a move. One feels it was this season or never. He took the bow in majestic fashion winning the 2011-2012 golden boot after many stirring and match winning performances.

His departure is not much of a surprise. For most of the past season it had seemed inevitable that Van Persie would leave Arsenal. Not even the statement by his father Bob Van Persie that seemed to suggest that his son would not leave the Gunners laid to the rest the persistent rumour mills. In the end Van Persie called time on his outstanding career at the Emirates.

All said and done the services of Van Persie will be greatly missed at the Emirates. The 8th highest all time scorer at Arsenal with an incredible 132 goals has left a legacy that few will be able to match let alone emulate.

The famous image of Robin Van Persie wheeling away, his number 10 shirt in full sight after scoring another spectacular goal will remain etched for months if not years in the memories of not only Arsenal fans but football lovers globally.

Captain Van-Tastic who has been compared to the great Dutch Legend Marco Van Basten due to his silky football skills will be an impossible act to follow.

Truly without a doubt it is an end of an era.