Champions League

5 points behind

Having disappointingly lost to United are we down and out of those teams competing for the top four? Some people think that our chances have disappeared as quickly as Steven Gerrard did on Sunday. Others including myself see this as an opportunit to complete another miraculous comeback. More recently we have been under dogs when it comes to challenging for the title but, we sure gave everyone a scare last year only losing out by 2 points. Perhaps this is another chance to cause an upset and seriously mount a challenge on the top four.

It was inevitably that we would face defeat again by the end of the season, so you could say it is better to get it out of the way now and go on another push towards the summit. Yesterday told us a lot of things about the team. Firstly and most importantly we need to start games far better than we have in recent weeks. In these sort of games you expect the opening 30 minutes to be hotly contested conceding possession consistently but, we got dominated against United. What was even stranger about this is that we are known for our possession game, whereas you expect United to attack down the wings at pace. Another thing yesterday told us that we need to be more adaptable during the game, Emre Can was against Fellani all game and had a torrid time of it, struggling in the aerial battles. This could have been easily resolved by sticking Skrtel on him, who is far more competent in the air. It has been further cemented into my mind that Raheem Sterling has some attitude problems. He is the sort of player you hope to be watching in the future in a red shirt scoring 30 or 40 goals a season which, is realistic having watched his development in to a senior key player. When played out of position you do not see the same desire to play for the team whereas, when he is playing further forward. This lack of effort suggests to me he is definitely not worth more than £100,000 a week on performances like that against United.

For me and many of us optimistic fans this will be an uphill struggle to overturn the 5 point deficit; that is the gap between us and the prize of Champions League football. Knowing what we are capable as a side I know we can grow stronger with the remaining 8 games. Most importantly though, we will be looking for other teams to do us a favour and get victories against United who still have to play; Arsenal, Chelsea and City.

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Liverpool showing their resilience

As everbody knew going to the Liberty stadium was not going to be a formality and it was far from it in the end. Having been totally dominated in the first half it came as a surprise the teams went into the changing rooms with the scores level. On a number of occassions Mignolet made some outsatnding saves to thwart the Swansea attack. Going into half time with either side yet registering on the scoreboard Gary Monk will have been the happiest of the two managers. Brendan Rodgers will have had a lot to say to get his team up and ready for the second half where they couldn’t play much worse.

As you would expect Liverpool were better in the second half where Joe Allen was particularly impressive with his tackling and moving of the ball. Liverpool were always going to have some form of pressure at one point and after a clever flick from sturridge for Henderson to run onto we were presented with it. The Swansea defender beat Henderson to the ball but, the path the defender decided to take clearing the ball was in line with Henderson. This lead to a deflection that looped the goalkeeper leaving him stranded and Liverpool one goal to the good. Taking the lead afforded Liverpool the opportunity to sit back and counter with devastating affect. Daniel Sturridge struck the post late on to give the Swans a late shock.

Liverpool showed their resilience all game pressing the ball, tackling players and holding out for a result that perhaps on the balance should have been a draw. This reilience was not a part of the side that came second last year with the idea that if you score one we’ll score two. The distinct change in identity has meant that Liverpool are more defensively independent and are able to cope with an onslaught and come away with 3 points. With Manchester United on Sunday the Reds will be feeling a lot better about the game in Anfield where they can move one point clear of their rivals with a win.

Race for the top four

The days of top four certainty are over for English clubs. The top four that was once Arsenal, Chelsea, LIverpool and Manchester United has disspated with the demise of Liverpool and United. This year we have seen the resurgence of both sides wanting to be included in Europes elite competition. This year deciding who will be in the top four will not be a formality, with even Arsenal in doubt having been there every year under Arsene Wenger. For me there are five teams in contention with Chelsea and City having already secured their position fighting it out for the league title. What makes the battle for Champions league even more interesting is that 5 points splits the teams. I’ll not go into definitive positions but who’s in and who’s not getting the much coverted Champions League football.

Arsenal and Liverpool for me will be the teams that find themselves in the top four come the end of the season. Unfortuantely that means Manchester United, Southampton and Tottenham will miss out and I’ll tell you why. Manchester United have been performing poorly all season but, have found themslves in and amongst the race for European football. In my opinion their luck is about to run out and rightly so, no team deserves to be this high up the table having yet to turn up properly. As for Southampton they began the season fantasically but, have began to peter off now. Most likely due to the volume of games and players tiring as Southampton lack a depth in squad. Tottenham have been fortuante enough to find themselves a goal machine in Harry Kane who has been superb all year. Had they put him in the team earlier in the season perhaps, they would be far closer to securing a second stint in the Champions League.

Arsenal under Wenger have never failed to secure a top four finish and this experience will help them as the games are closing in on single figures. Wenger has come under a lot of scrutiny since the defeat to Monaco but, going out of the Champions League next week might help their league objective. Liverpool are the form side in the whole of Europe, yet to taste defeat since the turn of the year in the league. The change in formation implemented by Brendan Rodgers has rejuvenated this squad who are aiming towards the heights of last year.

If you feel like the top four will look any different to how I have suggested it will, comment down below the team that will, who they’re replacing and why.

Luis Suarez turning it round at Barcelona

With the vast majority of us Liverpool fans being in complete and utter shock when he decided to move having only just signed a new contract Luis Suarez swiftly departed to one of his dream teams in Spain to kick off his career again. Having once again been naughty biting another player on this occasion Cheillini the Juventus and Italy centre back we as fans were preparing to yet again wait for the return of our talisman this season. In a surprise £75 million bid Barcelona lured him away knowing full well he would not be available for much of the season, showing their intent in signing him top help the club progress in the absence of Alexis Sanchez.

Having got Suarez back fit and free of suspension he was thrown straight into the team failing to score in his first seven games for the club. This then lead people to question whether or not Barcelona’s risk had been worth while all along and had they just wasted such a significant transfer fee. During this period Suarez was showing his metal through assists finding Messi and Neymar on several occasions, proving he had that creative spark but lacked the end product at the time. Since then he has been on a mission for the side scoring in the Champions League more recently against Manchester City twice at the Etihad.

It is only fit that we talk about this great player in advance of the All star charity match taking place at Anfield in the coming weeks. Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher have selected there squads and the first forward Stevie chose was obviously the Barcelona star who has now scored 1 in every 2 games this season. This change in form has coincided with the Catalans rise to the top of the table knocking their biggest rivals off of the summit.

What has happened to English teams in Europe?

Since Chelsea won the champions league which was only recently English teams have been seen to be struggling against the larger sides in Europe but why? For a large period of time English teams dominated the European stage on occasion hosting the four teams in the semi finals. The sudden deterioration of the top quality European sides has come as a shock to a large number of people yet the expectation to succeed has continued and is this perhaps an outdated opinion.

Having watched English teams truly struggle for the past few years I have wondered why have we taken steps back when we were once so dominant and struck fear into the hearts of the opposing teams. Some people may question the quality of teams as a whole having gone down. For me this point can not be argued because as a nation we are one of the biggest traders being involved in high valued transfers every market, so the quality does exist. This then makes us question the maturity and experience of English clubs. Manchester City have one of the oldest starting line ups on average in the competition at around 27 years of age so that shows significant playing experience. Despite the premier league being arguably the most exciting league to watch because of all the goals, we must ask why there is such a large amount of goals being scored every game.

As a nation we have lost appreciation and respect for the art of defending. Having grown up watching the likes of John Terry and Rio Ferdinand in their prime, I have become accustomed to that solid centre back who is dependable and will make game saving tackles or clearances. Looking at the sides in the champions league this year across Europe the defensive qualities of the top teams is exceedingly better than ours. Lets take each of our four teams as an example of defensive immaturity. Arsenal have a world cup winner in Mertesacker who is lacking pace and any form of coordination when running back to his own goal. We then look at Chelsea who undoubtedly have the best defence in the Barclays Premier League yet have had to play a youngster called Zouma in place of an experience centre back like Cahill who was superb last year but, has struggled this year. Liverpool this year have finally managed to resolve the defensive frailties from last year now that they no longer have a Champions league campaign that saw no real leadership or desire to defend. As for Manchester City supposedly there best player and captain Vincent Kompany has been a mere shadow of himself.

While the defensive frailties still exist English teams will not progress far into the tournaments being heavily dependent on the attacking prowess they possess because simply other teams beat them on that basis as well.

West Ham United vs Liverpool Preview

West Ham as the home team have a lot to prove because one of their main problems last year was there ability to win at home. For a side that has investors, executives and managing directors all wanting them to push on this season Sam Allardyce has a tough task to turn them around. West Ham this year have shown improvement in terms of build up play as they are now less reluctant to knock the ball 50 or 60 yards up the pitch but, instead play nice neat passes around the midfield.

For some reason whether it be time to settle or chemistry the Liverpool players have not followed the mould they set last year getting off to quick starts and blowing teams away early on. Perhaps this is the aftermath of Luis Suarez’ departure that left a massive gap on and off the pitch with his enthusiasm and class. It does take time to adapt to the premier league so the new players will be given this year to settle in and perform. With Liverpool featuring in the Champions League it is imperative that the league form doesn’t slide because of this and a top 4 position is achievable. This is an excellent opportunity to put in a good performance for the fans as the last two games have left fans disappointed and wanting more.

On paper Liverpool do look the better side, spent the money, brought the players in however with recent lacklustre performances who is to say West Hame won’t hold out and win at home. Realistically I can only see this game ending in a draw with both teams hoping to truly kickoff for this year.

Liverpool vs Ludogrets Preview

As it always is the first night of Champions League football is an exciting but, important time for clubs it helps them get underway with the competition and settles the nerves. It is an especially special occasion for any concerned with Liverpool because it’s the clubs return after a five year gap which can only make the atmosphere in Anfield tonight more intense. For Liverpool fans there is nothing like a european night at Anfield anywhere in the world, the stands will be rocking. What most fans including myself will be looking forward to is when we sing You’ll Never Walk Alone because as a Liverpool player if that doesn’t get you fired up nothing will.

Liverpool will be hoping to get off to a good start and set a fast tempo today because as we all saw last season they could win games in the first 20 minutes if the pressing and passing were on point. Mario Balotelli will obviously play a large role in the team today with the absence of Daniel Sturridge but, more so because of his european and international experience.

Ludogrets will face a harsh time tonight if they are sluggish to close down and stop Liverpool having most of the possession as it is becoming more important to break up the play and stop any rhythm and momentum they may have. Due to how unknown Ludogrets are Liverpool may be in for a surprise but who can tell as european nights do often throw up the odd anomaly of games.

Frankly, Liverpool should walk away with all 3 points and be topping the group on goal difference, as Madrid face a tough task in the form of Basel who have shown their resilience against the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea.

Liverpool vs Aston Villa Post Match Review

Surprisingly Liverpool lost 1-0 to Aston Villa at Anfield on Saturday which will have come as a big shock to all those watching the game. Liverpool assuredly had the best part of the possession which adds to the confusion of the result, Rodgers will have been pleased how we controlled the game, change the tempo and knowing when to speed the play up.

As always Liverpool were weak at the back and until this is resolved we will leak goals and lose games we are in control of. Aston Villa with no disrespect should be a straight six points bearing in mind how much Liverpool have spent on signings this year. Balotelli, Coutinho and Raheem sterling to name a few, are capable enough to win a game single handed, so why when Daniel Sturridge is injured do we lose with no explanation.

Not taking away any plaudits from Aston Villa they have played very well this season, could this possible be one of the final rungs on the development ladder and see a mature Villa side. The start to the season will give great hope and encouragement for the year to Paul Lambert who did have some job concerns the previous campaign.

Overall, I would categories this as a missed opportunity for Liverpool to push on and show the form which saw them achieve Champions League football last season.

Athletico Madrid vs Barcelona 1st Leg Preview

 This is the second of the two games on Tuesday night kicking off at 19:45 at the Vincente Calderon where the visitors Barcelona will want to go one up against their league rivals.

The previous three meetings this season have seen the sides share the spoils which is rather unusual taking into account the two attacking forces the possess, and only two goals in those 3 games have been scored.

Athletico Madrid

Athletico Madrid are the current league leaders by one point which is surprising when you think of the superstar teams of Barcelona and Real Madrid. Simeone has got an excellent team from front to back. Firstly at the back they have probably the best young keeper in Europe if not the world Courtois who’s future is still undecided at parent club Chelsea. Then there’s Diego Costa. The Spanish striker has been on red hot form scoring in all competitions for fun scaring the living day light of defenders.   

Barcelona

Barcelona have the ability to get themselves motivated for big occasions against big teams which will be the minimum requirement if they are even to give Athletico a game. Barcelona have masses of experience in the side which unfortunately for Athletico has won trophies meaning that Barca will know what they have to do to leave Vincente Calderon with all 3 points. With the likes of Messi, Neymar, Pedro and Sanchez Barca will find no issues creating chances it will be an intense battle to see how they come out against Courtois.

In my personal opinion, I would go with a 1-0 victory for the home side Athletico Madrid because of the hostility within the ground and the willingness to get one over the Catalans after publicy stating they’re making the UCL their main priority.

Manchester United vs Bayern Munich 1st Leg preview

Tuesday night football returns showcasing some of the greatest talents from Europe’s finest leagues.  

Tonight features the resurgent Manchester United on the back of a 4-1 win who play host to the current holders and possibly the greatest side on the planet at the moment Bayern Munich

Manchester United

Manchester United have looked an improved side, this shows positivity going into a titan game against Bayern munich who have gone from strength to strength under Pep. Wayne Rooney has been in good goalscoring form scoring 4 in 3 games including that screamer against West Ham. All the supporters will be looking for a confident performance showing Bayern they won’t get it their own way. United have ectremely poor against big teams this year the most recent examples being Liverpool and Manchester City who both comfortable won 3-0. With the Moyes fan club showing signs of tiredness this will be the biggest test he faces to see if he really is the chosen one to take United into a new age without Sir Alex Ferguson.

Bayern Munich

Bayern have recently secured the Bundesliga title a week earlier than the previous year still being undefated and drawing only twice. Pep has turned Bayern into a fully functional machine featuring various dynamics and avenues of creating chances that have surpassed their own extremely high standards. Munich will be no pushover bearing in mind the desire they shown in the group stage to retain the Champions legaue against the odds with Real Madrid heating things up.

In all honesty, I can only see one outcome a Bayern win and anything else would be a shock result. I expect Bayern to have a comfortable 3-0 win with United putting up little resistance