Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Liverpool vs Everton 6.2.2010

So the game I am covering today is the Merseyside derby, Liverpool-Everton. These teams usually provide a good game, both exciting and ferocious, with goals and red cards often in abundance. It’s often referred to as a “friendly derby” and I understand to an extent where that’s coming from.

I’m not from Liverpool, I’ve never been to a Merseyside derby, but it seems to be more of a local rivalry than a long-running social, cultural and religious divide between two clubs, like the rivalry we have here in Glasgow. Obviously I’m not saying it doesn’t mean as much as a Celtic-Rangers game for example, just that the rivalry is a little more human.

Anyway on to the game... Both teams lined up with a 4-4-1-1 formation, Liverpool with Gerrard playing behind centre forward N’Gog, and Everton with Cahill behind Louis Saha.

Benitez declined to start Alberto Aquilani, despite his recent good performances in the side. Instead Liverpool started with Lucas and Javier Mascherano in the centre of midfield, in my opinion an odd choice when playing at home. For Everton, Mikel Arteta returned from injury after just under a year on the sidelines. Still lacking match practice, Arteta wasn’t risked in the starting line-up, instead the Spanish midfielder was given a place on the bench.

Going into this game, Liverpool were sitting in 5th position, only one point behind 4th placed Spurs. Since the start of the season, the most repeated quote surrounding Liverpool has been Rafa Benitez promising at least a fourth place finish, and in their current position, he isn’t far off. Everton went into this game trying to extend their current unbeaten league run to 10 games, the Goodison Park side finding themselves in 9th place, a vast improvement from when they were flirting with the relegation zone early in the season.

The first half was a fiercely contested affair, both sides really getting stuck in, with strong physical challenges coming in from all angles. There wasn’t much football being played, and there was a lot of fouls committed. Andy Gray on Sky Sports described it as a “war of attrition”, a term that sounded cool at first, but was inevitably repeated nearly six times by Mr. Gray before the first half was over, somewhat taking away from the cool factor and bordering on the annoying factor.

After 33 minutes, the aggressive first half was summed up by Liverpool defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos being shown a red card for a two footed challenge on Marouane Fellaini. The incident was an interesting one, as one could argue that both players fouled each other, Kyrgiakos going in with two feet, while Fellaini went in high over the ball with his studs showing. If the referee had a better view of it, perhaps he would have given yellow cards to both players, but in truth Kyrgiakos could have no complaints as it was a silly lunge.

Now as I mentioned, there wasn’t that much football played in the first half, neither team looked comfortable in possession and players were often missing passes. In-keeping with the physical nature of the first half, most of the best chances came from free kicks. It was Everton with the first chance, Leighton Baines seeing his 25 yard free kick tipped over the bar by Pepe Reina, Liverpool reciprocated a while later, Steven Gerrard seeing his set-piece effort hit the bar of the Everton goal.

Everton had a great chance deep into stoppage time at the end of the first half, Tim Cahill heading over the bar from just over 6 yards. It wasn’t the easiest of opportunities, but considering Cahill’s ability when it comes to heading, he probably should have done better with it.

Coming out for the second half, both teams knocked the ball around a bit more, and we got the first goal of the game after 53 minutes. It came for Liverpool, with Dirk Kuyt heading home after a deep corner from Steven Gerrard. It wasn’t the prettiest of goals, but it was truly a great delivery from Gerrard, and Kuyt’s positioning, playing just off goalkeeper Tim Howard, allowed him to nod into the net from close range. The goal did come as somewhat of a surprise, with Everton in the ascendency, and Liverpool playing with ten-men.

After the goal, Liverpool stayed in control, looking happy to knock the ball around, trying to throttle the game. David Moyes in the Everton dugout tried to change it up by bringing on both Yakubu and Victor Anichebe for Saha and Osman respectively, but if anything, it just made Everton’s attack a little too congested.

Anyway, as I said Liverpool did seem content just to try and draw the life out of the game, with some calm passing and steady build-ups. Everton on the other hand, when they got possession, I couldn’t help but feel they were trying a little too hard to get behind the Liverpool defence. It didn’t help with the fact that Liverpool were bringing a lot of players back behind the ball when not in possession, so it did mean a lot of Everton attacks were quickly foiled by over-eager attempts to get the ball to the centre forwards.

With time running out, all of these failed attacks were making Everton frustrated, eventually leading to Steven Pienaar being sent off for a second bookable offence in stoppage time. Not the best decision, and with time running out there was no need for the referee to show the red card as it wasn’t a particularly bad challenge at all.

So Liverpool took the points, despite playing most of the match with a one man disadvantage, moving them up to the 4th spot Benitez has been promising all season. This was certainly not a classic Merseyside derby, neither team played particularly well, Liverpool barely doing enough to win, and Everton evidently didn’t do enough to try and get back in the game.

I’m sure David Moyes will be frustrated, not only did they lose to their rivals whilst having a one man advantage, but their unbeaten run in the Premier League also came to an end. Moyes’ double substitution in the second half, bringing on both Yakubu and Anichebe could have worked out in two ways; it could have spurred on their attack, or it could leave them over-crowded. Unfortunately for them, it was the latter, and with Anichebe, Yakubu, Arteta, Donovan and Cahill all working hard in the final third, they seemed to suffocate themselves.

Another quick talking point on the game, Liverpool won an important game 1-0 with the only goal coming from Dirk Kuyt. How many times have you heard that sentence? Dirk Kuyt does get a lot of criticism at times, granted a lot of it is justified as he isn’t a real quality player. However the role he plays in this Liverpool side is so vital.

There are so many teams around the world just crying out for someone like Kuyt, a player who will chip in with really important goals in some really close ties. Of course, it’s never a moment of inspired genius when he scores, he doesn’t pick the ball up on the half way line, beat four defenders and chip the keeper, instead Kuyt always seems to be there to turn in a scrappy finish, often helping Liverpool to a close victory.

Liverpool: Reina, Carragher, Kyrgiakos, Agger, Insua; Maxi, Lucas, Mascherano, Kuyt; Gerrard, N’Gog.

Everton: Howard, Neville, Distin, Heitinga, Baines; Donovan, Fellaini, Osman, Pienaar; Cahill, Saha.

Man of the match: Pepe Reina (Liverpool)

Friday, 5 February 2010

WC2010: Whos Going? (Part 4)

Time to advance this project a little more, so here goes with three more nations. Hope you will find this interesting!


Greece are no pushovers. Neither are they a particularly good side, but their success comes from their mentality and tactics, of which almost all comes from one man, boss Otto Rehhagel. Since their shock triumph at the Euros in 2004, Greek success has been quite hard to find. They failed to qualify for the World Cup in 2006, and whilst defending their crown in the Euros in 2008, they went out without a sound in the group stage.

But Greece have stayed with Rehhagel in charge, and while he is there Greece always have the potential to be very tough to beat. Their signature tactic, a 4-5-1, sees them try to nick a goal to get in front, then stay behind the ball religiously until the final whistle. Of course this can provide some ugly football which (as we remember from Euro 2004) can be mind-numbing to watch.

Greece have been drawn into Group B, alongside Argentina, Nigeria and South Korea. It is a tricky group, but with all of their opponents known to be guilty of mis-firing at times, their 4-5-1 tactic could just sneak them through the group.

Star Man: Giorgos Karagounis

Most fans of European football should know some things about Karagounis. He's been a constant fixture in the Greece squad for the past 5 or 6 years and is absolutely integral to their success. He adopts one of the central midfielder roles in Greece's side, alongside captain Kostas Katsouranis. While Katsouranis plays a typical holding midfielder role, Karagounis provides the creative spark, with many of Greece's goals involving him in some way. With such a confined, defensive look about the team, Karagounis is vital for initiating attacks and we will see him play every game for Greece this year.

Player to Watch: Theofanis Gekas

Greece's top goalscorer in the qualifying campaign with 10 goals, Theofanis "Fanis" Gekas has been a really important addition to the Greek set-up. Currently on loan at Hertha Berlin in Germany, Gekas is starting to find his feet there and has started to score goals for his new club.

Fanis usually plays just off the target striker in the Greece team, regularly popping up with goals and assists. It is definitely fair to say that his goalscoring prowess has been one of the main reasons Greece managed to qualify.

Prediction: You would expect them to exit in the group, but as I said above they have a chance to sneak through if their ultra defensive tactics are successful.


Honduras are definitely one of the most surprising qualifiers to South Africa. Los Catrachos have been to one World Cup before, in 1982, where they finished dead last in their group although managing draws against hosts Spain and Northern Ireland. Since then they've always had a bit of potential, but they just haven't really made an impact on world football until now.

The way they sealed their qualification was one of the most exciting of the year, in the end needing a last minute USA equaliser against Costa Rica to book their place in South Africa. You would be excused for thinking Honduras are here to make up the numbers, and it may well turn out that way, but the Hondurans have a pretty talented squad to take to the finals.

Honduras find themselves in Group H, up against Chile, Spain and Switzerland. It's certainly a very tough group for them, with one of the favourites to win the tournament Spain, a seemingly "born-again" Swiss side, and a tricky Chile side who I have previously covered. I'm expecting some EXCELLENT games in this group, most people will have their eyes on Group G, with Brazil, Ivory Coast, Portugal and Korea DPR, but keep one of your eyes on this one.

Star Man: Wilson Palacios

Very useful player, probably the player most familiar to you in this Honduras side. He's impressed EPL fans at Birmingham City, Wigan, and now Tottenham. Palacios is a very talented player, he can fly in to tackles and his balance and strength are astonishing. Alongside this Palacios also has a wicked turn of pace, and his stamina makes him seem like he can run all day. Really fit player, and will be very useful for the Hondurans in what is a very tough group for them.

Player to Watch: Carlos Pavon

As you have seen before in this blog, "Player to Watch" doesn't necessarily mean it will be a young, promising player, I'm also awarding this tag to more experienced players you wouldn't otherwise be aware of. If this blog was written in Honduras, 36 year old Carlos Pavon would be the man in the "Star Man" section, as he is near enough a national hero over there.

Pavon is a centre forward, the top goalscorer in Los Catrachos' qualifying campaign. Pavon is a true journeyman, at 36 years old his CV boasts an impressive 14 clubs. Basically he is small, but possesses impressive pace, great aerial ability, and the ability to hit some great shots from any distance. Good player, hopefully keeps up his good form and grabs a goal or two in South Africa.

Prediction: No pushovers, but with a tough group I expect they will be eliminated.


The reigning champs, the Azzurri have fallen somewhat under the radar when people discuss tournament favourites. For me, they can never be written off. With Marcello Lippi in charge, and players like Buffon, Cannavaro, Gattuso in the squad, the four-time world champions still have an excellent chance of lifting the trophy again.

A typically efficient approach to qualifying saw Italy stroll through without really making much of a fuss. The argument with Italy has always been that their side is too old, but with their mentality and lasting quality they will still put together a good challenge in 2010. One worry with Lippi however, is he tends to select players exclusively from Juventus, Milan, Inter etc. and perhaps overlooking players from other Serie A sides.

Italy have been handed a fairly straighforward group by their standards, drawn against New Zealand, Paraguay and Slovakia.

Star Man: Gianluigi Buffon

Might sound a bit useless underlining Buffon's quality, as he has been around for so long and still putting out some excellent performances between the sticks. His reflexes are still extremely sharp, and his one-on-one skills are near unparalleled, many Juve fans have this season said if it wasn't for Buffon, they would be doing considerably worse

Player to Watch: Giuseppe Rossi

It's yet to be said how much football Beppe Rossi will actually get come World Cup 2010, with the chance Lippi may choose to go with players like Luca Toni, Iaquinta, Amauri, Quagliarella, Gilardino, Di Natale.... The list goes on. But Rossi showed in the Confederations Cup that he has a special edge over many of the other candidates for a starting position.

Rossi always plays like he has something to prove when he pulls on the jersey for the national team. He has good speed, great dribbling skills and he has a really good left foot, which he proved after scoring some great goals in the Confederations Cup. I hope Italy line up with Gilardino and Rossi come the World Cup, as Gilardino is a skilled goal-getter, whereas Rossi is a real live-wire and a constant headache for defenders.

Prediction: Will stroll through the group, and if they steer clear of injuries and play the way they always do, the Azzurri could well retain the trophy. I say Semi-Finals.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Brazilian Football

Now as I have mentioned before, I like to watch A LOT of football. One of the most rewarding things about that is the new leagues, teams and players that I discover on the way. Now over the years I have followed several leagues, from European ones like Ligue Un in France, to some leagues farther afield like the J-League in Japan, and MLS in North America.

Recently I've came across a league I have enjoyed watching so much I feel I must share it with you, and it's the domestic league of the most successful footballing nation in the history of world football; Brazil.

Brazilian football doesn't have the quality of some European leagues, but the fundamental principles are there to see in every game. There are innovative tactics, fluid passing, and generally football which is very easy on the eye. On the opposite end of the spectrum, yes there is a lot of diving and simulation, and discipline is poor, with few games finishing with both teams having 11 men.

The schedule in Brazil is pretty different from most popular European leagues most of us will be familiar with; the season starts in January with the state championships, where every Brazilian state has a tournament of their own. These championships are held in high regard by every club, providing plenty opportunity for local bragging rights. The most popular championships are the Campeonato Paulista (championship for Sao Paulo state) and the Campeonato Carioca (Rio de Janeiro).

After the state championships wind up in May, 64 clubs take part in the national cup competition, the Copa do Brasil, a straight knockout competition where the winner gains a place in South America's equivalent of the Champions League, the Copa Libertadores. The Copa do Brasil is pretty highly regarded in Brazil also, the Libertadores place that is at stake is invaluable for some teams.

Then as the Copa do Brasil is coming up to a close, Brazilian football enters into the national championship, the Campeonato Brasileiro (or the Brasileirão as it is popularly known as). 20 teams take part in the top level, the Serie A, with the four teams finishing at the bottom of the table being relegated to the Serie B, and the top four sides qualifying for the aforementioned Copa Libertadores.

Now this schedule is much more of a hindrance to the success of the Brazilian league on a worldwide scale, because the transfer window in Europe is open while teams in Brazil are right in the middle of their league season. This ends up with teams losing key players to big clubs in Europe, and it's not abnormal to see a team streets ahead at the top of the Brasileirão halfway through, and then finish in a disappointing position come the end of the tournament.

However, this does leave the Brasileirão quite interesting to watch, as it is truly so unpredictable. As opposed to the "top four" in England, Brazil has around 9 or 10 big teams. These generally come from the more populous states like Sao Paulo (Sao Paulo, Palmeiras, Corinthians, Santos) and Rio de Janeiro (Flamengo, Fluminense, Vasco, Botafogo), but also from other big cities like Belo Horizonte (Cruzeiro and Atletico Mineiro) and Porto Alegre (Inter and Gremio). This also makes for several clássicos with the majority of top-flight sides having a stiff adversary from their own city.

Let's take 2009's Brasileirao as an example. Nearing the half way point, Palmeiras (my adopted Brazilian team) managed to battle their way to the top of the league despite sacking their manager and replacing him with former Sao Paulo boss Muricy Ramalho. Meanwhile Flamengo (the eventual champions), were struggling in 12th place. Now as the season drew to a close, after some poor results from Palmeiras and many other sides really finding form, with one game remaining Palmeiras, Flamengo, Sao Paulo and Internacional were all in with a chance of winning the title.

Eventually Palmeiras managed to drop to fifth place, even losing out on a spot in the Copa Libertadores, while Flamengo took the title for the first time since 1992.

So expect more from me about Brazilian football, and I hope I can get a few of you guys interested in what is a very rewarding league to watch. If you would like to know more, check some of these links I've provided:

Tim Vickery's blog at BBC Sport - Living in Rio de Janeiro, Vickery provides a good insight of an Englishman's take on South American football.
SeeTheCup - Football blog, well written and informative, has some great reporting during the Brasileirao.
Futebol Brasileiro at ESPN Soccernet - Up to date standings, fixtures and results for Brazilian football. Includes Brasileirao, Copa do Brasil and also the state championships.
bet365.com - If you sign up you can use the Live Streaming feature, and they show most big games in the Brasileirao and Paulistao.

ps. If there is a game on and you can't find a way to watch it, drop me a line and I'll see what I can do...