FM

Feb 282014
 

The Chihauhaus” of this season’s horse-themed title race according to Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool have exceeded everyone’s expectations this season and now find themselves at the end of their five year period in the doldrums, competing at the business end of the Premier League table once again.

But are they really title contenders? Rodgers himself doesn’t think so (at least not publicly) but the fans are allowing themselves to dream that the 24 year itch may soon be scratched and the long and painful wait for title number nineteen may soon be at an end. It’s a wait that has seen them usurped by their fiercest rivals as the most successful side in English football history.

Liverpool have been phenomenal at times this year, particularly in the past month. The way they tore Arsenal apart at Anfield was a joy to behold for the neutral and for fans of fast-paced attacking football. Even Arsenal fans present at Anfield that afternoon must have known they were witnessing something special. The speed at which Liverpool were able to break from their own defensive third to Arsenal’s penalty area was other-worldly at times. The 4-0 half-time scoreline didn’t flatter them at all. It should have been more.

This same attacking mentality saw them stick four past Everton and five past Swansea in recent weeks and they now have replaced Manchester City as the Premier League’s leading scorers this season. It’s quite possible that both sides could reach the 100-goal mark this season, a feat that’s only been done once before.

Liverpool’s rise this season is largely thanks to the form of their two prolific strikers who have really taken it in turns to bask in the limelight as Liverpool’s main man. Danny Sturridge started the season well scoring in practically every game. Luis Suarez then returned from suspension and duly began scoring in practically every game. Sturridge got injured and missed the entire festive program allowing Suarez to effectively etch his name of the PFA Player of the Year award. Since Sturridge returned, he’s scored in literally every game since whilst Suarez has become more of a creator.

Both strikers have more league goals than starts this season which is a very telling statistic. The strikeforce is undoubtedly of Premier League winning standard, what about the rest of the side?

Rodgers has until recently failed to find a settled starting XI this season. Aside from Henderson (who has found himself playing in several different roles depending on the formation), Gerrard and Mignolet, the starting line-up has been drastically rotated and the formation changed throughout the season. One player who found himself very much on the fringes until about December was Raheem Sterling. He regained a place in the line-up mostly due to the injury to Sturridge and his form has been so impressive since that Rodgers cannot justify leaving him out.

Coutinho and Henderson are two that seem to have found their positions shifted around quite a bit this season. Both have been asked to play wide roles at times despite being more naturally central players.  Lately, with Rodgers incorporating Sterling into the attack, either Suarez or Sturridge has been asked to play a wide role, leaving Coutinho and Henderson to play in the middle with Gerrard behind as an anchor.

Steven Gerrard has been excellent this season and his career-long wait for that elusive Premier League winners medal may be nearing an end. He’s been playing in a new holding role recently allowing Henderson and Coutinho to get forward and support attacks. He’s contributed seven goals this season (mostly penalties) and nine assists from his new deeper role but his average of three tackles per game is where he’s helping to make a bigger difference.

It’s obvious Liverpool’s defence is their weak link. A weak link that has recently cost them four points against Aston Villa and West Brom, exactly the margin between them and the summit at the moment. Winning games 4-3 like they did against Swansea last weekend is fantastic entertainment for the fans but not really sustainable in terms of a title charge.  What happens when Suarez and Sturridge have a relatively off day and don’t score more than one goal between them? Points are virtually guaranteed to be dropped.

Martin Skrtel, Kolo Toure, Glen Johnson, Mamadou Sakho and Simon Mignolet to name but a few have not pulled their weight this season. I don’t think Rodgers knows his best back four, I don’t think he can select a settled one and the result is that Liverpool have conceded 35 goals in the Premier League this season, more than West Ham, Hull and Southampton.

So can they win the league? I don’t think they will this year. They have some of the elements in place but never has the side with anything like the 10th best defence in the Premier League found themselves placed 1st at the end of the season. The strikeforce is the best in the country at the moment (Manchester City may take issue), the midfield is finally settled and has an excellent balance to it. The only thing letting them down is their leaky defence and error prone goalkeeper who cost them some valuable points in the big clashes with Chelsea and Manchester City over Christmas.

I think, ultimately, Brendan Rodgers will be the man to bring the league title back to Anfield. How long it takes remains up for discussion. Next year may prove a case of taking one step back before they take another forward. Liverpool’s success this year means they will have the added challenge of Champions League football next campaign, which may hinder their league form. There are steps to be taken and they must begin this summer if Rodgers’s fantastic work so far is to be continued.

What they need:

  • A more reliable keeper. I don’t think Simon Mignolet is solid enough to be first choice for a title winning side.
  • At least two new quality defenders. This may in turn lead to the sale of Martin Skrtel and a few others. Having a squad bloated with sub-standard players is generally not a good thing.
  • A bigger squad. Liverpool have a good first eleven but do not have enough quality in depth to maintain the fight on more than one front next season.
  • Another striker. Aside from the possibility of injury to Suarez and Sturridge whom they depend so heavily on,  they will need some games off from time to time. Rodgers will need at least one more striker to be able to carry the can when they need a rest. When City need to rest Negredo or lately while Aguero has been injured, they can call upon Dzeko or Jovetic who are both dependable for goals.

Right now, Liverpool have the bones of what will be a very good side for years to come, in the attacking department at least. Henderson, Coutinho, Sterling and Sturridge are all still 24 or under.  Suarez is now entering his peak years and they have him tied down to a long term contract. The only are of concern right now is the defence and Rodgers will have to address that in the summer. A man who sat under the learning tree of Jose Mourinho at Chelsea is bound to know a lot about defensive coordination. He will sort it out. Liverpool’s future is looking increasingly bright.

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Aug 172013
 

He’s leaving, he’s not leaving; he wants to go, he doesn’t want to go; will they, won’t they? – as is the case every year, this year’s transfer window has its share of uncertainty and late surge in excitement with the season kicking off in less than a week. Here’s a look at the three biggest names linked with moves and the impact it will have on their respective clubs.

Luis Suarez

Amidst all the publicised support offered to Luis Suarez by Liverpool FC in the wake of the controversies he was involved in, they seemed to have overlooked the fact that a lot of the current footballers are mercenaries. I’m not condoning Suarez’s recent actions and statements in the media but the fans that supported him despite his flaws in ‘non-footballing matters’ must learn to accept that a player of his skill and quality will have ambitions of performing on the big stage. Sadly for Liverpool, they can’t offer that to Luis Suarez in terms of Champions League football, but Arsenal can.

As for Arsenal, a very expensive and highly controversial player might not be in the mould of a typical Arsene Wenger signing but Suarez is the exact type of player Arsenal needs. The club lacks an attacker who is willing to drop deep to receive the ball and make intelligent runs that drag central defenders out of their position (Van Persie, Henry and Bergkamp did this very well), which would enable other attackers like Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski to run into space and have a goal scoring opportunity.

If Suarez does move to Arsenal , this would be a massive dent to Liverpool’s hopes of Champions League qualification for next season. Given their current roster, it is hard to see where the goals will come from if their top scorer from last season with 30 goals in all competitions was to leave. Brendan Rodgers has to identify a suitable replacement rather than spending all his effort in making Suarez stay.

Wayne Rooney

No one is sure about the truth behind the Wayne Rooney saga. As per Sir Alex Ferguson, Rooney wanted to leave; the player himself has denied handing in a request; and David Moyes refuses to sell him. Many fans have had enough and the general sentiment is that there is enough cover and talent to fill the void that Rooney leaves – with the likes of Danny Welbeck, Shinji Kagawa and Adnan Januzaj (latter having a very good pre-season) who are all capable of playing off the main striker, or in the case of Welbeck, leading the line too. However, the fact is that Rooney clocked 12 goals and 10 assists in 22 league starts last year while there was a combined return of only seven goals from Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverly, Ryan Giggs, Antonio Valencia and Welbeck.

If Robin Van Persie was to get to injured or suspended, United would need another reliable source of goals. They’d also require a player with energy in the middle of the park, passion, bite and ability to track back. It might not be a healthy relationship but it’s a convenient one and Manchester United will stand to gain if they kept Wayne Rooney.

Gareth Bale

The Welshman was an unstoppable force in the 2012/13 league season. In almost the same number of games (44 in 2012/13), he more than doubled his tally by scoring 26 goals in all competitions as compared to 12 in the season before. £80m (and counting) is a ridiculous sum for any player and Tottenham (or Daniel Levy) will be making the right decision in cashing in on Gareth Bale.

In many instances last season, Bale single-handedly carried Spurs through games. He took matters in his own hands more because of lack of other consistent goal threats. This also probably explains why he only assisted 4 goals in the league last season compared to 10 in 2011/12. Though Spurs posed more steel in defence and the middle of the park last season, they lacked ruthlessness up front, especially when Bale was injured or being man marked. Andre Vilas Boas has further bolstered his side by adding Paulinho and Roberto Soldado. The presence of a proven striker like Soldado should potentially make up for the dearth of goals.

If the sale goes through, the funds can be used to invest in three to four good quality players – wingers and forwards (Angel Di Maria as part of the deal would be a great piece of business) and build strength in depth. Truth be told (and ludicrous it might sound), Spurs can achieve a top 4 finish without Gareth Bale.

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Aug 152013
 

Luis Suarez was given a heroes welcome at Anfield recently, despite making it clear he wanted to leave the club, giving numerous interviews over the summer stating his desire to move to Real Madrid.

The reputation of Liverpool FC has been dragged through the mud in recent years, with the players and manager, Kenny Dalglish, opting to wear t-shirts with a picture of Suarez on after he was found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra. Suarez then refused to shake hands with Evra when he returned from suspension and played at Old Trafford, much to the embarrassment of the club and manager, but again they stuck by him.

Towards the end of the season he bit Branislav Ivanovic, the second time in his career that he has done such a thing, and again the club stuck by him.

Yet still, despite their constant support, Suarez has thrown it back in their face, preferring to play for last season’s 4th best side. It was surprising that he was then given a hero’s welcome when confronted with the fans for the first time.

After his appearance at Anfield, with Arsenal the only club keen enough to put in a bid for him, the player gave an interview with The Guardian reiterating his desire to swap Liverpool for Arsenal.

Brendan Rodgers was furious, insisting that the player wouldn’t be sold but he had would have to apologise to his team mates before being allowed to play. The press reported that Suarez had no intention of apologising, with him believing the club owed him an apology for not adhering to their agreement from last summer to let him leave if a club in the Champions League made a bid. Rodgers says no such discussion took place.

Much to the relief of Liverpool fans, it was reported yesterday that Suarez had taken it all back and decided to stay at the club.

He was quoted in El Observador as saying: “For now, owing to all the affection of the people, I would be staying.”

Liverpool fans united in their forgiveness of the Uruguayan, far too eager to have their world class player back in the ranks to be bothered by his disgraceful lack of loyalty.

But then later on that evening, having played for Uruguay in a friendly against Japan, Suarez denied making those comments.

“I didn’t say that. Maybe someone else did and the main thing is that I am here now with the national team.”

Ouch.

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Aug 122013
 

There is one name Arsenal supporters repeatedly look towards when phrases such as loyalty, strength and determination are banded about and that name is Jack Wilshere. Arguably one of the finest natural English talents of his generation with his performance against Barcelona in the 2010-2011 campaign catching the eye of many a Spanish footballing aficionado, Jack Wilshere has become somewhat of an enigma with his name being whispered almost in hearsay with the midfielder having missed a sizeable amount of football over the past three seasons as a result of repeat injuries leaving many to believe his place in Roy Hodgson’s World Cup squad next summer is in considerable jeopardy.

Whichever way you look at things Jack Wilshere has been poorly managed, he has often been rushed back from injury due to the fact in terms of number, Arsenal’s midfield is weak with Abou Diaby being unreliable in terms of fitness and the departures of Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song have also taken their toll on the strength in depth of the Gunners’ midfield. Furthermore, once rushed back, Wilshere is then overworked with the England midfielder often being asked to play three to four successive games which is simply too much for a man of Wilshere’s questionable fitness.

Even at the close of last season Jack Wilshere was again struggling with fitness with Arsene Wenger confirming that Wilshere would miss the final matches of last season with an ankle injury that would require summer surgery to rectify. Wilshere has since returned to the first team fold on Arsenal’s pre-season tour and has come through several matches without any fitness worries however if Arsenal are to not make any significant moves in the transfer market it will only be a matter of time before Jack Wilshere is again overworked and injured much to the detriment of not only Arsenal Football Club but also his chances of going to the World Cup in Brazil.

In signing Santi Cazorla, Arsenal made a fantastically clever move. Cazorla sitting in the number ten role just behind Olivier Giroud brought back the creativity lost with Samir Nasri’s departure and more to Wenger’s forward line. Cazorla settled quickly to the Premier League and was undoubtedly a key part of Arsenal securing yet another top four finish with the former Malaga playmaker contributing twelve goals and eleven Premier League assists according to statistics provided by ‘WhoScored.’ With Cazorla operating either on the left hand side or the number ten role there was little protection provided for the deeper central midfielders however with Mikel Arteta and Abou Diaby beginning the season as the central pairing after Alex Song’s transfer to Barcelona and Jack Wilshere’s injury troubles kept him out of the beginning of last season.

This midfield partnership was successful until Diaby picked up yet another long term injury which would keep him out for the remainder of the campaign. Jack Wilshere would eventually return but was as previously mentioned overplayed due to the lack of strength in depth Arsenal had in the deeper midfield areas. Now there is a relatively simple, well not simple if you look at events thus far this summer but it is easy to see a way in which the pressure could be taken off Jack Wilshere and that is to sign Luis Suarez.

Make no mistake, Luis Suarez is an outstanding footballer, his pace, close control and ability to beat a man with a quick turn of pace put him right up there with the elite attacking footballers in Europe at this time. Suarez in terms of footballing ability as Jamie Carragher says, “Should be playing in a team which challenges for the Champions League.” Suarez can be deployed as a striker, he is a nuisance to defenders, snapping at their heels forcing a mistake with an outstanding ability to score from an improbable angle making him an incredibly difficult player to defend against.

Now onto Arsenal, Luis Suarez can be utilised just as effectively in the aforementioned number ten role, he can beat a man and draw defenders out of position before playing a clever reverse pass to a centre forward positioned further forward who now finds himself in space. Suarez is very creative, he can find himself in a tight corner surrounded by two or three defenders and still manufacture a way to wriggle out of the danger and break into space, he has illustrated this on several occasions against Manchester United, particularly in his first appearance against United at Anfield.

This would be fantastic for Arsenal, Suarez situated just behind Olivier Giroud would not only take pressure of last summer’s new recruit but it would also allow Giroud to concentrate on getting into goalscoring positions in the box and find himself on the end of chances created by Suarez. Arsenal will once again become hard to defend against as defenders will be unsure of whether to break rank and try and shackle Suarez which in turn leaves Giroud in space, as well as this if an opposition feels they need to restrict Suarez’s creative flow they may use a holding midfielder to track the Uruguayan’s movement but this will then leave a gap in their midfield which Arsenal could manipulate using Arteta, Wilshere and Cazorla.

Now you are probably thinking, how on earth does this help Jack Wilshere? Well if Suarez was to be positioned as Arsenal’s number ten which I feel on most occasions he would be, then Santi Cazorla will be forced to play deeper in the midfield alongside Arteta. Cazorla has proven not only during his time with Villarreal and Malaga but also in his debut campaign in English football that he has a truly impressive eye for a pass. Cazorla can sit in the middle of midfield almost in the mould of Paul Scholes and just look to spread passes across the breadth of the pitch in order to create chances for Arsenal. With Arteta as the holding midfield just alongside or behind him Cazorla would have the freedom to play his calculated game from the middle of the midfield.

This would give Arsenal an increased strength within the midfield, both in terms of quality and depth. With Cazorla able to play in the centre of midfield without leaving a gaping hole of quality in the number ten role with Suarez now filling there, Jack Wilshere will have the opportunity to be eased back into Premier League action and then once back playing he will not have to be overplayed as Wenger can rotate between the trio of Arteta, Cazorla and Wilshere. This school of thought would have been exactly the same had Stevan Jovetic been brought to the Emirates if Arsenal had not wisely baulked at Fiorentina’s initial £27million asking price at the beginning of the summer but Suarez whilst more expensive would add Premier League experience and a more reliable source of input than Jovetic who does appear at times rather streaky in terms of consistency.

Wenger has an outstanding midfielder at his disposal in Wilshere, he can pass the ball as well as any of Spain’s starting eleven but he also has the gritty tough nature of an archetypal English central midfielder very much like Bryan Robson making him a incredibly useful player for both club and country provided he is fit. Wenger has to recognize this and look after him accordingly, with the amount of injuries he has already had at just twenty one years of age it is likely Wilshere will be susceptible to further knocks and setbacks however if Wenger was to add to the his squad with Suarez and possibly other players it would not only have a huge impact on Arsenal’s overall quality but it would protect and more than likely bring out the very best of their most valuable asset, Jack Wilshere.

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Jul 312013
 

Having suffered the humiliation of their star player being found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra, Liverpool have taken precautions against further poor behaviour.

Luis Suarez admitted he used the word “negro” when interviewed by the FA, but claimed he meant it in a friendly way. After footage showed the two players arguing, Suarez kicking Evra in the knee, pinching him and slapping him around the back of the head, an independent commission deemed his defence was a lie.

Following the case, a Liverpool fan at Anfield was caught on camera doing monkey impressions at Evra. When in court, he claimed he was doing a “caveman dance”, and he was also deemed a liar.

Liverpool have spelt out the words they deem to be unacceptable… but for some reason “negro” is missing from the list.

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Jul 242013
 

Arsenal fan, Piers Morgan, has been quick to criticise the Premier League’s most unpopular player, Luis Suarez, over the years. “Cheat”, “pathetic”, “cannibal” and “berk” are amongst the names Morgan has used to describe the Liverpool striker. He also claimed he would be “disgusted” if an Arsenal player behaved the way Suarez has.

Then Arsenal put in a £40,000,001 offer in for the player and Morgan changes his tune.

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Jun 122013
 

Luis Suarez revealed earlier this month that he was ready to leave Liverpool FC. Rather than being honest to the fans and explaining that, justifiably, he wants to join a better club who can compete for the Champions League every year, he has blamed his decision on the country.

Suarez has been regularly criticised in the media after being found guilty of racially abusing Patrice Evra, biting Branislav Ivanovic (the second time in his career that he has bitten someone on the pitch), sticking his finger up at the crowd and diving. Any normal person could see that if a player had done these things and not been criticised, something would be very wrong.

“Ever since I arrived I have felt bad, they have never judged me for my play but with the attitude that he dives, protests, makes gestures, racism… everything,” he told television show RR Gol.

Poor Suarez.

His biggest complaint was the difference in treatment between John Terry and himself when they were both found guilty of racially abusing an opponent, accusing this country of discriminating against him because he wasn’t English.

“Without any proof they gave me an eight-match ban, but with Terry, where they had proof, lip-readers, they gave him four. I’m South American and I think that’s the root of all of this,” he claimed.

The problem with what Suarez has said here is that they did have proof. Their proof was Suarez’s own testimony. Whilst John Terry was caught on camera shouting “fucking black cunt” at Anton Ferdinand, he came up with the laughable excuse that he was asking Ferdinand whether he had accused him of calling him a “fucking black cunt” at the time the camera was on him. However ridiculous this explanation is does not change that it couldn’t be proven beyond reasonable doubt in court. Despite the chief magistrate giving his opinion that Terry’s defence was “unlikely”, there wasn’t enough evidence to disprove Terry’s silly story.

In the case of Suarez, they didn’t need lip readers to tell them what Suarez said to Evra because he told them himselves.

In the weeks leading up to the FA report being published, some newspapers claimed that the word Suarez had used was “negrito”, a less offensive and more friendly version of “negro”. They were speculating. Some Liverpool fans who, for some reason, never read the FA report still claim that this is the word Suarez used.

The FA report takes the statements of both Suarez and Evra, amongst others, and both players agree that “negro” is the word Suarez used when arguing with Evra.

Paragraph 6 of the report deals with Suarez’s explanation: “According to Mr Suarez, at no point in the goal mouth did he use the word “negro”. When the referee blew his whistle to stop play, Mr Evra said [in English] “Don’t touch me, South American.” Mr Suarez replied “Por que, negro?” Mr Suarez claimed he used “negro” as a noun and as a friendly form of address to people seen as black or brown-skinned.”

The language experts confirmed in the FA report that “negro” could be used between friends in Uruguay without any connotations of racism. They also confirmed that the word, like in England, was still a form of racist abuse if not said between friends.

Suarez admitted in the FA report that he pinched Evra and that he hit him around the back of the head. He also admitted to an earlier foul when he kicked Evra in the knee. He revealed that he was not friends with Evra. The argument they had was in the middle of a Liverpool vs United fixture at Anfield, one of the most hate-filled rivalries in the world. The FA rightly dismissed Suarez’s ridiculous claim that that he was calling Evra “negro” in a friendly way.

So, that is Suarez’s first complaint dealt with. The proof that he racially abused Evra came from his own testimony.

The next issue is to do with the length of the ban. Suarez was banned for eight games whilst Terry was banned for just four. Why?

Terry, like Suarez, was charged with a breach of the FA’s Rule E3(2) which states that football people should not use “abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour”. The rule states that if such abuse includes “reference to a person’s ethnic origin, colour or race”, the panel can consider doubling the penalty it would have imposed had that “aggravating factor” not been present. The panel in the Suarez case specifically said that a four-game ban “is the entry-point” for breaches of E3(2) and it did double that minimum penalty to “reflect the gravity of the misconduct”.

The fact that Terry has been sanctioned with the minimum penalty suggests that the panel in his case, despite finding him guilty, did not find the reference to Ferdinand’s colour or race an aggravating factor such that it would double the ban.

However, whilst Suarez was banned for longer, Terry was fined more. It was a £220,000 fine for Terry and a £40,000 fine for Suarez, with the regulatory panels taking into account a player’s weekly wage.

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May 012013
 

At Sunday’s PFA awards it was reported that Luis Suarez’s name was booed by guests, current and ex-professional footballers, when he was announced in the PFA Team of the Year and runner-up for Player of the Year.

Why we shouldn’t boo him:

1. Suarez is one of the most talented players in the Premier League this season and is responsible for 28 goals/assists from 33 starts. To give this context, PFA Player of the Year Gareth Bale has 23 goals/assists, Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney and Christian Benteke have 22, and Eden Hazard has 18.

2. Suarez is a rags to riches hero. When he was 11 he was invited to a youth national team football training camp, but he had to decline the offer because he could not afford football boots.

3. During the World Cup in 2010, Suarez spent a lot of his free time doing his bit for charity. He helped Tomando Conciencia and more details of this can be found on Suarez’s website.

“I care about social inequality,” he said afterwards. “Whenever I can I love being active part of organisations that promote solidarity projects. Football has got this tremendous power of joining people, without any skin, religion and social discrimination.”

4. Suarez is an ol’ romantic. In the early days of his playing career in Uruguay, Suarez was separated from his girlfriend, Sofia, who moved to Barcelona to study. They continued their relationship long distance for a year before Suarez was asked to play in Holland.

“I could not give up on our relationship and when I got a call to play in Europe I didn’t think twice,” he has said since, describing this phase of his life. “The only thing I thought about was being by her side again. That’s how my European adventure started. I went to play for Groningen in the Netherlands when I was only 19 years, but I had the girl of my life Sofia back next to me.”

Suarez married Sofia in 2009 and in 2010 they had their first child. Awww.

5. Suarez has shown the potential to change. Earlier in the season he was criticised for diving but as the months have gone on he has worked this out of his game. This is more than what can be said for Bale, as John Aldridge pointed out today.

“It was no surprise that Suarez didn’t win the PFA award after what’s gone on but he would have been my pick ahead of Gareth Bale,” he said. “Bale is a brilliant talent and I’d love to have him at Liverpool but he’s also one of the biggest cheats. Suarez stopped diving and now the PFA Player of the Year needs to do the same and clean up his act.”

Show your support and purchase this brilliant Luis Suarez t-shirt (only £9.60)

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Apr 262013
 

PFA Player of the Year

Jack Howes – Bale

As a Spurs fan, obviously I am biased when it comes to who I think deserves Player of the Year. I’m as biased as a parent on sports day, or a member of the FIFA committee deciding which country to give a World Cup to who’s just been handed a suitcase by a member of the Qatari delegation that suspiciously feels like it has hundreds of thousands of dollars in it.

But this season, after watching one man consistently pull off heroics, having a Doctor Who like penchant for digging his team out of bigger and bigger scrapes, there’s only one man for me. For consistency of performance, for his ability to grab games by the scruff of the neck, for having a portfolio of goals sufficiently high in quality to make Matt Le Tissier or Tony Yeboah blush, I’m voting for Gareth Bale.

In seasons past, while Bale was an excellent player, he still had a tendency to be bullied out of games and was perhaps too reliant on his pace. When Spurs beat Inter Milan in the Champions League and Bale had given Maicon the sort of roasting you usually see sausages get on barbecues, I was still at school and in the 6th form common room heard someone say about his display “He wasn’t very good. All he did was kick the ball past the defender then run past everybody.” While this was obviously ludicrously simplistic, there was perhaps an element of truth to it.

This season though, that’s not the case. He has shown genuine skill in the way he goes past people, being a real twinkle toes at times. He has been helped by Andre Villas-Boas playing him in different positions, keeping the opposition off guard, though many times this season, you knew what Bale was going to do – and the opposition still couldn’t stop him. That’s how good he’s been. His pace, dynamism and athleticism has been such that teams have just not been able to keep up with him.

The variety of goals he’s scored has also been mesmerising. There have been fantastic dribbles, tap ins, headers, free kicks, thirty yard screamers, dinks, the lot. All that, and he isn’t even a forward, playing for a side sorely lacking goals in other positions. He truly has carried Spurs at times this season, and while Luis Suarez has done the same for Liverpool, Bale comes with the advantages of not being found guilty of racist abuse and not being a possible cannibal.

For those reasons, Gareth Bale is my PFA Player of the Year

Rob Marrs – Luis Suarez

I’ve always had a soft spot for Michael Carrick and would like to see him win but can’t say he has been the best footballer in the league this season. That is a three-way battle between van Persie, Suarez and Bale.

For all his many sins, Suarez has dragged Liverpool along this season – unlike van Persie he isn’t surrounded by world-class players but he has scored a huge amount of goals. He’s a dynamo and, in my view, has played the best football in the league this season. I think Michu can feel a little hard done-by not being nominated

Ramon Isaac – Robin van Persie

Juan Mata in my opinion is the best footballer and my favourite footballer in the premiership at this very second and it was always going to take something special for me to consider anyone else for the Player of the Year award, unfortunately, to the detriment of my emotional health, I’m going to say this… Robin Van Persie managed that something special and he done in it with a Manchester United team, that has won the league in spectacular fashion. I was skeptical about his move to Manchester United, not that I didn’t think he would do well but I wasn’t sure what he would offer a team that already had so much threat going forward. Well, 24 goals later and I think he’s proved me wrong. Of course the game is not just about the stats but they are pretty conclusive when you look at them. Question marks over whether he could replicate last season’s form, whether he could last a season, was he even worth the £24million they forked out on a player in the last year of his contract? They’ve all been answered with a resounding yes. They obviously aren’t a one man team but they owe a lot of this league’s success, which just happens to be their #20th, down to Van Persie’s goals and the quality of some his strikes have been simply brilliant. There is an air of inevitability when he scores and even with that baron spell he endured, I don’t think anyone doubted it would last much longer and even by then the damage had been done to the rest of the challengers. Goals against Chelsea, Arsenal, City He’s been the standout player for the runaway leaders, so with that in mind Van Persie gets my vote, just, ahead of Mata. I love you Juan.

Rob Pollard – Robin van Persie

I know his form has tailed off slightly in recent weeks, but I genuinely feel he has been the difference for United this season, and has therefore been the key component in United winning the title. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that if City had signed him, we’d have won the league. He’s that good.

Ashley Perry – Robin van Persie

Robin van Persie should be awarded PFA Player of the Year. Despite Manchester City’s dwindling efforts this season that have left United with a remarkable lead, RvP won the title for the Reds. The former Arsenal man grew weary of fruitless campaigns at the Emirates and was hungry to win. Simply put, van Persie brought the 20th League title to Old Trafford just like he said he would.

PFA Young Player of the Year

Jack Howes – Christian Benteke

Yes, I have voted for Gareth Bale as PFA Player of the Year and he is also nominated for PFA Young Player of the Year, so using simple logic he should win that award too.

But frankly it’s silly that Bale’s nominated for Young Player of the Year – he’s an experienced player now with close to 200 first team appearances in his career, who is a known commodity. This award should surely be those for who are a surprise package, who in football years if not actual human years are still youthful. As such, I disqualify Bale and vote for the guy who I think genuinely deserves it, Christian Benteke.

This may be a surprise choice, as he’s not the household name his fellow nominees are. But this season he has been an absolute powerhouse, carrying a shit heap of a team virtually on his back at times with remarkable renown. He has had little service, arrived in a country he’s never played in before to play for one of the worst teams in the league, and instead of faltering like almost anyone else would, he’s shown star quality to score goal after goal, many of them beauties. The man is dynamite at times with the ball at his feet.

And though he’s been criticised for being inconsistent – he’s playing for Aston Villa for god’s sake. He’s spent the season feeding off scraps, with next to no help. Try scoring goals when you’re being battered 8-0 by Chelsea, 4-0 by Spurs, 5-0 by Man City, with all of your teammates in your own half, trying and failing to stop the opposition scoring even more. It’s impossible, whether your Lionel Messi or the best kid in the playground at school.

Benteke has been magic, not only scoring goals but coming up with some sublime assists too, creating 10 more chances than any other Villa player this season. He has been their talisman, the fulcrum of their side. For the manner in which he’s done this, considering his lack of experience and the dismally low quality of the team he’s playing for, he gets my vote for PFA Young Player of the Year.

Rob Marrs – Romelu Lukaku

I think Bale will win but I don’t think he should win. He’s nearly 24! Lukaku has shone for an unfashionable team and has, at his best, been unplayable. I think Nastasic at City should have been nominated as should Rafael.

Ramon Isaac – Christian Benteke

The Young Player of the Year happens to be eerily similar to the main award. I wanted to pick Hazard, I really did he’s been phenomenal in his first season here in England, sadly he also finishes a close second. I’ve omitted Gareth Bale because there is no way he should be considered as a young player anymore despite whatever the FA guidelines might be. If you’re turning 24 before the next season, you aren’t “Young” unless your name is Ashley or Luke of course. Back to the award, I’ve picked one Belgian who had his first season in the league, over another. Christian Benteke signed for Villa with no real fanfare, if I remember correctly he hoped to score “7” goals for Villa this season. He’s amassed 15 so far, for a club that quite frankly at times has looked incapable of scoring 15 goals all season and he’s done it with a relative lack of fuss. He’s strong, athletic and has generally been a nuisance to defenders trying to mark him. He’s even keeping fellow Belgian starlet, Lukaku out the national side. He has been a revelation and a bargain buy for the club that desperately needed someone to step up with Darren Bent becoming anonymous. If Aston Villa do survive they can thank Benteke, if they go down I can guarantee they will be saying “bye bye” to him.

Rob Pollard – Gareth Bale

He’s carried Spurs during much of the second half of the season. His goals have been brilliant to watch, and he’s a constant threat. Sandro’s injury was a huge blow to Spurs, but Bale’s form has meant they have managed to keep pace in the race for top four.

Ashley Perry – Christian Benteke

Christian Benteke should win Young Player of the Year after a hugely valuable impact in his first season at Aston Villa. The powerful Belgian has scored the highest % of a club’s goals in the Premier League this season. Villa were threatened with relegation, but Benteke has saved Paul Lambert’s side and the striker is now highly-sought among Europe’s top sides. Big things to come.

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Apr 252013
 

Liverpool striker Luis Suarez has received a 10-game ban for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic during a Premier League fixture last weekend.

In response to the incident itself, the FA issued a statement on behalf of Liverpool Football Club: “Luis Suarez has today accepted a charge of violent conduct, following an incident with Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic in Sunday’s fixture at Anfield.

“However, Suarez has denied the FA’s claim that the standard punishment of three matches is clearly insufficient for this offense.”

Insufficient? This is the second time Luis Suarez has bit a fellow professional. He is a repeat offender. On 20 November 2010, the Uruguayan bit PSV’s Otman Bakkal on the shoulder. Ajax responded with a suspension for two games along with a fine and a Dutch daily newspaper De Telegraaf labeled him the “Cannibal of Ajax”. The KNVB (Royal Dutch Football Association) increased Suarez’s suspension to seven games but he joined Liverpool before it ended.

Liverpool FC issued a statement in regard to the Suarez ban earlier today. The club’s managing director Ian Ayre said: “Both the club and player are shocked and disappointed at the severity of today’s Independent Regulatory Commission decision.

“We await the written reasons tomorrow before making any further comment.”

It’s not difficult to see why Suarez has been given a 10-game ban and not the standard punishment of three matches. He did not learn from his mistake the first time and if it’s a matter of finding suspensions tiresome, the 26-year-old should stop getting himself into controversial incidents – where, yes, he is at fault.

For instance, when the 10-game ban comes to an end, Luis Suarez will have been suspended for 20 games since joining Liverpool. Yet the club continue to drag themselves through the dirt in dependance of the liability.

So since arriving in England Suarez has racially abused, bit and stamped on opponents. Not to mention the cheating that gets on all of our backs. And ‘cultural difference’ does not come into it.

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Apr 232013
 

As Manchester United players did a lap of honour around last night, following their 3-0 victory over Aston Villa to confirm their title win, something was thrown on the pitch in the direction of Patrice Evra.

Evra, who captained United last night, picked it up and posed for the cameras. Closer inspection reveals that it is a plastic bitten off hand. Whilst normally this would be very bizarre behaviour, in light of Luis Suarez’s recent charge for biting Branislav Ivanovic, it makes more sense.

Suarez was found guilty of racially abusing Evra last season after admitting he called the United defender a “negro” during a row. The indepedent panel dismissed his defence that the use of the word was meant in a “friendly” way, given that it was said in the middle of a row after Suarez had kicked Evra in the knee.

When the Evra and Suarez came face to face for the next time, Suarez refused to shake Evra’s hand, much to the embarrassment of Liverpool FC. Both the club and player issued an apology for his behaviour, although neither ever said sorry for the racial abuse.

Suarez is unlikely to play for the rest of the season meaning that Robin van Persie will almost certainly claim the golden boot. To further rub salt in the wounds, Evra was more than happy to take the mick out of Suarez’s latest scandal.

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Apr 212013
 

Luis Suarez has taken to Twitter to apologise to Branislav Ivanovic for biting him during today’s 2-2 draw with Chelsea at Anfield. This is the second time he has been caught on camera biting an opponent during a game. Just over two years ago he was banned for seven matches when, as an Ajax player, he did the same to Otman Bakkal, although then it was a shoulder that took his fancy, rather than an arm.

If the FA are to follow suit, Suarez won’t play again this season and if transfer rumours are to believed, he will have played his last game for Liverpool.

“I’m sad for what happened this afternoon, I apologize Ivanovic and all football world for my inexcusable behaviour. I’m so sorry about it!!”

After the game, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers conceded he would have to talk to the owners before deciding his next move on how to handle Suarez.

“I hear all sorts of what has supposedly happened but I’ll go away, review it and comment later,” he said. “We’ll go away and speak to them (owners Fenway Sports Group) afterwards and take it from there. This is a club with incredible values and ethics here. As footballers, managers and staff we are representing this great club on and off the field. I will always speak openly and honestly about the players and protect them when I can and if I think they are wrong I will tell them – as I have already happened this season with Luis (when the striker admitted to diving). People have to accept it when they do wrong if that’s what the case is. They have to accept the consequences accordingly. It’s disappointing that we are not talking about the football.”

The club have since released an official statement to condemn their player’s behaviour.

The club’s managing directory Ian Ayre commented: “Luis has made an unreserved apology for his actions today. His behaviour is not befitting of any player wearing a Liverpool shirt and Luis is aware that he has let himself and everyone associated with the club down. We will deal with the matter internally and await any action from the FA.”

Suarez also added to the apology he made on Twitter.

“I am deeply sorry for my inexcusable behaviour earlier today during our match against Chelsea,” Suarez said. “I have issued an apology and have tried to contact Branislav Ivanović to speak to him personally. I apologise also to my manager, playing colleagues and everyone at Liverpool Football Club for letting them down.”

Suarez is currently under investigation by FIFA for punching an opponent when representing Uruguay in the most recent international break.

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Apr 132013
 

Fernando Torres has now scored 20 goals for Chelsea this season, a goal tally that betters the likes of Wayne Rooney (16), Carlos Tevez (16), Olivier Giroud (16), Sergio Aguero (14), Dimitar Berbatov (13) and Eden Dzeko (13), yet he is still widely regarded as a flop after the £50m Roman Abramovich forked out for him.

After just 1 goal in his first season and 11 in his second, Chelsea fans admirably stuck by the Premier League’s most expensive player and offered him their full support during this difficult period.

“I would like things to be much better but the support they give me every day is amazing,” Torres said a year ago. “I remember a game against Wolverhampton and I was on the bench, and they were still singing my name. I’ve been very lucky to live very good moments but that game, when I was in the middle of nothing and not playing, was maybe the best memory I have in all my career. At the beginning of the season, I went through a hard moment, I was not playing, things were wrong and I was eight games without playing – I had never been in this situation before. The only thing that gave me hope was the support of the people. That game against Wolverhampton showed me there are important things to fight for, the love of the fans, the support of the club. My team-mates as well but the fans are the ones who have always been there from the first day until now.”

When you consider how infrequently Torres was scoring for Chelsea it was remarkable to see how well supported he was by the fans. When you compare the treatment of Torres by Chelsea fans to the treatment of Dimitar Berbatov by United fans, when he was the Premier League’s top scorer in the season they won their record breaking 19th title, it’s all the more impressive. Of course, it was in their best interest to try and get the best out of their £50m man, but football fans are fickle and many turn on their players for much less. What seemed to be Torres’ saving grace was that he at least appeared to be trying, even if he wasn’t coming up with the goods.

However, in Torres’ third season in West London, with him still failing to recreate his form at Liverpool, now often not putting in the required effort, and becoming associated with the dismissal of the incredibly popular Roberto Di Matteo and the appointment of the incredibly unpopular Rafa Benitez, Chelsea fans have slowly turned on him.

At the beginning of the year, following yet another poor performance, Torres was booed and jeered by the fans at Stamford Bridge during their game against Swansea. It was his 100th appearance for the club, with a goal tally of just 26, and this latest lacklustre performance was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Chelsea fans.

Still, after racking up 20 goals this season, Torres is two goals away from matching his tally for 2009-2010 with Liverpool, having already bettered his 2008-2009 record, meaning this season could become his second highest goal-scoring season in the six years he’s played in England. So, just how deserving is he of criticism?

Aside from the slating he’s received for a lack of effort, the quality of the opposition he’s scored against takes something away from his goal tally. Just 7 of his 20 goals have come in the Premier League, against Reading (20th), Sunderland (17th), Aston Villa (16th), Norwich (14th), Newcastle (13th) and Arsenal (5th). Of those 7 goals, only those against Arsenal and Sunderland had a direct impact on the final result.

The remaining 13 goals came in Cup competitions. In the League Cup he scored the fifth in a 6-0 win over Wolves (20th in the Championship) and the fifth in a 5-1 win over Leeds (17th in the Championship). In the FA Cup he scored a late equaliser against Brentford (3rd in League 1) to force a replay and again in their 2-0 win over Middlesbrough (9th in the Championship). In the Champions League he scored twice in the 6-1 win over Nordsjaelland (2nd in the Danish League). In the Europa League he scored in the third in a 3-1 win over Steaua București (1st in the Romanian League), but more importantly, scored twice in their 3-1 win over Rubin Kazan (5th in the Russian League) and again in their 3-2 defeat against the same club in the second leg, which ensured they progressed to the semi-final on goal difference. He also scored in the 3-1 win over Monterrey (7th in the Mexican League) in the FIFA World Club Cup semi-final. This would suggest that Arsenal, who are currently 21 points behind league leaders Manchester United, are the best side he’s scored against this season, which isn’t anything to write home about.

When you compare Torres to strikers at other clubs (and Demba Ba since he joined Chelsea), a clearer picture of his flaws begins to develop.

Torres scores, on average, every 5+ hours that he’s on the pitch, which is a poor record compared to others, with the likes of Dzeko, Suarez, Van Persie and Rooney scoring every 2+ hours. Another huge flaw is his clear cut chance conversion, with him scoring just a quarter of the chances that are put on a plate for him, which is dwarfed by the likes of Suarez, Rooney, Tevez and Dzeko who score half of their chances. Torres’ passing isn’t dreadful, but it is still weaker than most other top club strikers.

Where Torres shines is his ability to get his efforts on target, with a shooting accuracy of 57%, but he isn’t deadly enough in front of goal so isn’t converting these chances.

In conclusion, whilst any season a striker scores 20+ goals can’t be regarded as a poor one, the quality of the opposition and the lacking effort in most of his appearances means it’s probably too little too late for the Spaniard. With Radamel Falcao managing 28 goals in 33 appearances this season and 36 goals in 50 appearances the season before, you can understand why Chelsea would be keen on shipping Torres back to his former club and luring the Colombian in his place. They may be cutting their losses and the £50m spent on Torres may ensure that he goes down as one of the Premier League’s biggest ever flops, but Chelsea fans can take some comfort in the fact that at least they didn’t spend £35m on Andy Carroll…

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Jan 172013
 

Luis Suarez was banned for 8 games last season after the FA found him guilty of racial abuse after he referred to Patrice Evra as “negro” during an argument. Suarez failed to convince the FA panel that he was using the term in a friendly way, given the pair of them were clearly at loggerheads at the time. Video footage was shown to Suarez of him pinching Evra’s arm and Suarez claimed that was intended to be a “conciliatory” action too, in attempt to “diffuse” the situation, before admitting that was a lie.

Having never apologised for causing Evra offence, whether this was intended, as the independent panel concluded, or not, as he claimed, Suarez had the opportunity to make amends when he played against Manchester United at Old Trafford. Bizarrely, he chose not to shake Evra’s hand, which he later acknowledged was a mistake, with the club also apologising on his behalf.

However, when speaking to Uruguayan television months later, Suarez blamed the ban on Manchester United, claiming the club had plotted to get him banned.

“People at Liverpool are sure that it was a way that Manchester United used to put me out of the team and stop Liverpool,” he said in July 2012. “In England, Manchester United’s political power is strong and you must respect that and shut your mouth.”

Manchester United weren’t to blame for Suarez choosing to call Evra “negro”, something he admitted doing, so it’s puzzling that he could think United created the situation to get him out of the team. Also, what does he think United were trying to stop Liverpool from doing? Liverpool finished an incredible 37 points behind United last season and aren’t competitive rivals anymore.

Suarez’s paranoia doesn’t stop there though, with him claiming today that the reason he gets so much press attention is because the media is controlled by Manchester United. He also seems to imply that Evra was wrong to put in a complaint about the racist remark, claiming that when people refer to his place of origin, he doesn’t “cry” about it.

“When someone comes and says to me something bad about being a South American, I don’t cry, because that happens inside the pitch,” he said. “I have my conscience clean. But as I have said Manchester United controls the media, they are powerful and the media will always help them.”

It genuinely hasn’t crossed Suarez’s mind that he receives so much media attention because he’s a deeply unpopular person. Whether that’s for the 7 match ban he received when he was at Ajax for for biting an opponent, costing Ghana their place in the World Cup semi-finals after using his hand to stop a goal in the dying minutes of extra time, being found guilty of racially abusing an opponent, or repeatedly cheating, people have every reason to dislike him.

Maybe he should worry less about Manchester United and concentrate on their real rivals… the other midtable teams, like Swansea, Stoke and West Ham.

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Jan 172013
 

Luis Suarez has admitted to diving, namely that embarrassing occasion against Stoke City, but claims the media make more of a fuss about him cheating because the media is controlled by Manchester United.

“Sometimes you do things on the field that later you think ‘why the hell did I do that?’ People say I throw myself all the time inside the box. They said that when we played against Stoke, for instance, and in that case they were right. I invented a foul because we were drawing against Stoke and I wanted to win.”

Suarez said he got more attention than other players who cheated because his name sold newspaper,

“The name of Suarez sells papers,” he said. “The media make up a lot of things about me because they want to sell papers. I say to the media: you should talk more about football, not about other stuff. But as I have said: Manchester United controls the media, they are powerful and the media will always help them.”

You would think that Suarez was used to being an unpopular player, after being banned for 7 games for biting an opponent when he played in Holland, costing Ghana their place in the World Cup semi-finals after using his hand to stop a goal in the dying minutes of extra time, and being found guilty of racially abusing an opponent. It’s odd that he would think that the media target him because they’re controlled by United, rather than accepting the truth, that is a deeply unpopular person because of the way he behaves on the football pitch.

Regardless, Brednan Rodgers has reacted angrily to Suarez’s admission of cheating.

“I think it is wrong,” he said. “It is unacceptable. I have spoken to Luis and it will be dealt with internally.”

You can only assume that Rodgers didn’t see Suarez’s dive against Stoke, because it’s not as if the Uruguayan has revealed anything we didn’t already know.

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Nov 222012
 

By Far The Greatest…Goal of the Week (12)

The Premier League threw up its usual amount of excitement and quality again last weekend.

1. Gareth Bale v Arsenal

2. Anthony Pilkington v Manchester United

3. Luis Suarez v Wigan Athletic

4. Stephane Sessegnon v Fulham

5. Jason Puncheon v QPR

 

Which was the best goal?

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Oct 022012
 

The Premier League threw up its usual amount of excitement and quality again this weekend.

Vote for your favorite goal of the weekend from the following 5 GIFS:

1.Demba Ba (Newcastle United v Reading)

2.Luis Suarez (Liverpool v Norwich City)

3.Nikica Jelavic (Everton v Southampton)

4.Gareth Bale (Spurs v Manchester United)

5.Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United v Spurs)

Vote for your winner now…

Which was the best goal?

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