Category Archives: lfc

Blaming Rafa for LFC’s troubles is like prosecuting Clinton for the Iraq war

Not as coherent or analytical as I would have liked, but it’s nearly 4:00 a.m. on what has been a long night and I need to get this off my chest, so here it goes…


6 points from 7 games is the worst start to a league season for Liverpool since 1953-54. While the ownership situation is largely responsible for the downward spiral that the club finds itself in, that alone cannot explain the recent run of results. After the latest humiliation of a home defeat to Blackpool, Roy Hodgson has come under a lot of criticism from a large number of the (usually patient) Liverpool fans. Is the criticism justified?

Some fans don’t think it is. As far as they are concerned, there’s only one man to be blamed for the mess – Rafa Benitez. These views are supported (or rather fueled) by large pockets of the English media, led by Sky Sports. Without getting into the details of their anti-Rafa, pro-Englishman, Xenophobic propaganda, this post will attempt to look at what blame, if any, indeed lies at the steps of the Spaniard.

Whose team is it?
With everybody fit, and let’s not get into how often that happened last season, this was pretty much Rafa’s first choice XI last season:

	            
               Reina
Johnson Carragher Agger Insua
        Lucas Mascherano
    Kuyt     Gerrard	Benayoun
             Torres

Note: Agger was injured at the start of the season, then Agger and Skrtel took turns getting injured, and then Agger had a brief stint at LB because Insua was injured & Aurelio was never around. But everyone would agree that was Rafa’s “go-to” team.

Based on the evidence so far, this is the XI Roy Hodgson prefers:

              Reina
Johnson Carragher Skrtel Konchesky
        Gerrard Poulsen
      Kuyt    Meriles  Cole
             Torres

I can count four players that Roy has signed in there. Can any new manager, coming in at any club, anywhere in the world (other than Manchester City) expect to make more than 4 changes to the first XI in his first transfer window? I don’t think so. The team he prefers to use has four of his players, four players whose pedigree no one can question (Reina, Carragher, Gerrard and Torres) and another two who may not be everyone’s favourites, but are regular internationals for top European nations (Johnson and Kuyt). That brings us to the 11th player. Roy clearly prefers Skrtel over Agger, with the latter’s tendency to play the ball out of defense in contrast to Roy’s desire to see the team never lose its shape. Again, a decision made by Roy.

To summarize, that’s four of his signings in the first XI, and a fifth he’s promoted from 3rd choice (behind a fit Agger) to the firm incumbent in the second center-back spot. Again, how many more changes can a manager expect to make to the first XI in one transfer window at a club with limited funds?

Let’s take a look at it another way. Four of Roy’s players are already here. Another four that he definitely wouldn’t want to change (JR, JC, SG, FT). That leaves us with the other three. Does anyone really think Roy could buy a trio better than Kuyt, Johnson and Skrtel given the purchases he’s made in the current financial climate at the club? He’s shipped out 4 of last season’s XI in Insua, Benayoun (probably not his fault), Lucas (dropped to the bench) and Mascherano (wanted to go) and brought in Konchesky, Cole (talks were already underway with him when Roy signed?), Poulsen and Meriles. Which of those 4 names suggest that if Roy could have imposed more of his authority on the first XI suggests that he would have done a better job (especially in the current financial conditions).

Sure, the new guys need time to settle in. Then how about not throwing all four of them in at the same time. Why not let Lucas or even Babel start some league games over Poulsen or Cole, both of whom have been pretty ineffective, to put it kindly. Blending in two new players would surely be easier than blending in four? But by starting those four, you are putting YOUR stamp on the team Roy, so please, there’s no blaming anyone else.

What about the strange decisions of letting Insua and Aquillani go out on loans when everyone’s moaning about the size of the squad? It may have been down to cutting the wage bill (though I doubt Insua was making a killing), but, the way I see it, we exchanged Aquillani for Poulsen and threw in an extra 5.5 million pounds to sweeten the deal! Surely, you can’t blame Rafa for that?

I am not even going to talk about tactical decisions like playing Gerrard deeper, playing Cole on the left, using Babel as a striker because he “likes it there”, or preferring Skrtel to Agger for that matter. That’s because there are smarter people out there dissecting that already and, secondly, unlike the cold hard fact numbers of how much of the starting XI is Roy’s, tactics are subjective. What’s brilliant for one, doesn’t work for the other.

Results

This Season

(LFC score first)

Arsenal (H) 1-1
Man City (A) 0-3
West Brom (H) 1-0
Birmingham (A) 0-0
Man United (A) 2-3
Sunderland (H) 2-2
Blackpool (H) 1-2

Overall record

P W D L Pts. GF GA GD
7 1 3 3  6   7  11 -4

Home record

P W D L Pts. GF GA GD
4 1 2 1  5   5  5  0

Away record

P W D L Pts. GF GA GD
3 0 1 2  1   2  6  -4

Last season – Equivalent fixtures

(LFC score fist)

Arsenal (H) 1-2
Man City (A) 0-0
Hull (H) 6-1*
Birmingham (A) 1-1
Man United (A) 1-2
Sunderland (H) 3-0
Portsmouth (H) 4-1**

* West Brom qualified as 2nd ranked team from Championship and thus took place of Hull who finished 19th.
** Blackpool qualified via playoffs from Championship and thus took place of Portsmouth who finished 20th.

Overall record

P W D L Pts. GF GA GD
7 3 2 2 11   16 7  +9

Home record

P W D L Pts. GF GA GD
4 3 0 1  9   14 4  +10

Away record

P W D L Pts. GF GA GD
3 0 2 1  2   2  3  -1

While critics may point at the deficiencies of such comparisons, and with good measure too, they definitely make for compelling reading. It’s true that Liverpool didn’t play these teams, in this order at the start of last season, and one bad result can snowball into a bad start if you have a difficult fixture list. But it’s also true that this is the closest we can come to making direct comparisons across seasons.

If you look at the equivalent fixtures comparison, the away record is almost exactly the same – draw at Birmingham and a narrow defeat at Manchester United. The biggest difference of course is the result at City where a goalless draw last season became a 3-0 drubbing this time. Money talks? Maybe, but that doesn’t explain the home record.

The narrow defeat to Arsenal from last year was improved to a draw. We played them off the park in the 1st half last season (which, amazingly, even Wenger managed to see and admit) but didn’t put the ball in the back of the net, and paid the price. On other hand, some may put this year’s draw as a harsh result after the Reds had almost held out till the last minute with 10 men, so you don’t always get what you deserve. It’s the other 3 games that really bring out the difference. Comfortable home wins were replaced by a narrow win, a draw and a defeat. While it’s true Portsmouth had nothing to play for when they came to Anfield last season (especially when compared to what we saw from Blackpool today), the same can’t be said about Sunderland or Hull, whose seasons where alive and kicking when they were dispatched comfortably last season.

Last season – First 7 fixtures

(LFC score fist)

Tottenham (A) 1-2
Stoke City (H) 4-0
Aston Villa (H) 1-3
Bolton (A) 3-2
Burnley (H) 4-0
West Ham (A) 3-2
Hull (H) 6-1

Overall record

P W D L Pts. GF GA GD
7 5 0 2  15  22 10 +12

Home record

P W D L Pts. GF GA GD
4 3 0 1  9   15 4  +11

Away record

P W D L Pts. GF GA GD
3 2 0 1  6   7  6  +1

This comparison has been included just for reference. Even though it included away trips to Spurs, Bolton and West Ham, the Reds had a relatively easier fixture list in the first seven games of last season. What they did well last season, at this stage atleast, was winning the “home bankers” – Villa withstanding (if that can be called a banker i.e.).

Results – Conclusion
Not much to say. Nearly twice as many points, more than twice the number of goals scored, fewer goals conceded – clearly the Reds did much better in equivalent fixtures last season. The time based comparison is even more lopsided.

Summary
So what does this tell us? The simplistic can draw the conclusion that the new manager has come in, made some changes to the team and that hasn’t worked. So who must take the blame? Around 40% of the team’s starting XI is the incumbent’s, so he cannot claim for it to be entirely the previous manager’s fault. Besides, as shown above, the previous manager clearly did a better job in the same fixtures and the club was in a much healthier position in the league same time last year. Perhaps the problem lies in the missing 40% from previous season starting XI that have either moved on or been relegated to the bench? If that’s the case, atleast part of that blame is again attached to the incumbent since it’s his transfer policy/ tactics, albeit under the shadow of the financial cloud (which existed during the previous manager’s reign as well, lest Sky forget).

There’s bad luck, there’s rotten luck and then there’s Rafa’s luck

I know every club goes through a spell of bad luck, bad decisions and injuries but I don’t remember seeing anything like this in the decade that I have followed football at *any* club. Exhibit A:

Liverpool XI Missing in Action from Fulham Away
Uploaded with plasq‘s Skitch!

That’s 7 regular first team starters injured and 3, if not 4, regular subs out injured as well.

Add into the mix a defender returning from what seemed a serious injury (a defender that Rafa never really wanted in the first place but let’s not go there). A midfielder who caught flu after perhaps his best game in the red shirt against the biggest rivals and when he was finally starting to win the fans over. A striker who’s hardly trained all week. All 3 who probably wouldn’t have started if there were any realistic alternatives.

Now add a Ref who sees (and shows) red for seemingly no reason whatsoever and you have the perfect recipe for the most sickening final one-third of a game I’ve seen in a long, long time.

You don’t have to be a football pundit to see that these are extraordinary circumstances and to blame Rafa for this is so ridiculous, it isn’t even funny. Or maybe you have to be a Wheelan of a pundit to be so oblivious to the facts and spout whatever shit comes to your mind. If only they stopped to think before opening their mouth. Think? That would imply they had a brain, wouldn’t it. Well, like I said – let’s not go there.

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You just freaked your wife out

Background
For Liverpool fans, the perfect footballing weekend is:
1) Liverpool win.
2) ManU drop points (preferably lose).
3) Everton drop points (preferably lose).


Situation 1
Half Time, ManU vs Sunderland

Me: I have some good news and some bad news.
Wife: What?
Me: Good news is that Manu are drawing at Half Time. Bad news is they are still going to win.

(cut to an hour later, into injury time at the Theater of Screams)

*Vidic scores the winner for ManU with barely a couple of minutes to go*

Me: I told you so.
Wife (pissed off): I hate them!


Situation 2
Mid-way through the second half in the Everton vs Aston Villa game, Everton trailing 1-2

Me: You know what I’d like. I’d like to see Everton equalize.
Wife (dirty look): What?!
Me: Yeah, I’d like to see them equalize, only for Villa to break their hearts with an injury time winner.

(cut to half an hour later)

*Everton equalize deep into injury time*

Me: Oh, well!
Wife: Crap! (or words to that effect)

*Before we have time to react further, Ashley Young pops up with the winner for Villa straight after play resumes. Ref signals end of game.*

Me (laughing uncontrollably): Ha ha ha, I love it!
Wife (stares at me for a few seconds): You just freaked your wife out!

I had a dream

Two dreams actually. First, the Liverpool Board went behind my back and installed Juande Ramos as my replacement after I won the League + FA Cup double in Football Manager. Second, Oil touched 145 USD a barrel.

Have to say that both dreams worry me a great deal. By the time you read this, the second one might actually have come true. I am not going to start up FM for a while to ensure that the first one doesn’t come true – atleast for a while – because it sounds exactly the kind of thing the men assholes presently in charge of the great institution would do.

Dreams? More like nightmares!

Cranky Concerns

As most Indians sleep content, thanks to the T20 win over Australia, I sit awake wondering what’s going on with my beloved Reds. Let me first get the one thing I have to say about the cricket match out of the way though. In Dhoni, India might have stumbled (Indian cricket always stumbles into leaders/ players, nothing ever happen here by design) upon a man who can keep his common sense around, even in tight situations. I believe captaincy, like most things in life, is about common sense and in bowling Bhajji and RPS before Sharma, he made the sensible decision. Most captains, unfortunately, don’t always make this “common sense” decision and are tempted to get the over of the “weak link” out of the way and hold back their best bowler(s) for the end. Trouble is, the match is quite often all over bar the shouting by the time the best bowler comes to bowl.

Is Rafa going against common-sense by holding back his best players for future battles? I don’t know about common sense, but he’s surely going against the common opinion. Which makes me believe he might actually be right, because one of the things I have learnt so far in life, is if you everyone is against you, you might actually be onto something – common sense isn’t as common as the name might suggest, you see.

Second, Torres started mid-week (and everyone’s giving Rafa shit because he benched him today) and, if anything, we were worse against Porto. Look at the Beeb’s by-line in the article I linked above: “Birmingham punish Liverpool for leaving out Fernando Torres, by holding for a goalless draw at Anfield.” – Jesus, like Toress is God himself and his starting would have meant definite 3 points – FFS!!! I watched the game mid-week and I watched a taped version of today’s game, and we played worse against Porto. Sure, Porto are a better team than Birmingham, and the match was away from home, but it wasn’t about the oppoisition in mid-week, and if anything Birmingham did quite well with their gameplan, where by gameplan I mean, let’s get all our bodies behind the ball and hope we don’t concede. I am not maning about that – fair enough, that’s the “price”, if you will, of being one of the top sides – that’s what the “lesser” sides do against you at your home ground. And sometimes away from you.

But let’s face it, we were quite ordinary today on the whole and have been for the past 3 games, and I’m not sure how much of a difference any one player would have made – even Torres with all his intelligence and guile and shit. We seem to be lacking energy and heart and what not, and that is not Rafa’s fault. Fuckin’ hate international football with a passion – all was going so well before the last set of International matches. And it’ll happen again – we’ll win the next few matches until 7th October comes along and they’ll come with their begging bowls, the National teams will, and take our players away to send them to play some meaningless friendly or stupid Qualifier no one has any interest in, to a country so far away that frequent flier miles from the trip would get you a free round trip to the moon. Then they will send them back all crooked and tired and Rafa will spend sleepless nights wondering which players returned with a broken metatarsal. Yes, that’s why we pay these players hundreds and thousands of Pounds a week, so they can go and get themeselves injured playing for SOMEONE ELSE!

Anyways, it’s hardly a “crisis”, our current form, if you ask me and only a minor concern as far as I am concerned. And you won’t find me second guessing a man who’s beaten Barcelona and Real Madrid twice in his sleep and reached the finals of the biggest tournament in the game two times, winning one. It’s a case of players not doing the job with passion and energy that is required and blaming Rafa is useless, albeit hardly unexpected. But all this talk of the title being gone and all that is, well, horseshit. We are still unbeaten this season, still no goals conceded from open play – the 3 goals we have conceded so far have all come from penalties – go figure! ManU and Chelsea aren’t running away either and we all know Arsenal’s “kids” are going to run out of steam sooner rather than later (4 out of their 5 wins have come at home btw). And yes, like someone at RAWK said, we beat Derby 6-0 while Arsenal could manage only 5 goals, so we are better than them… Yipee!!!!

Before I go, let me give some shit to the guys who run ESPN-Star. When they launched Star Cricket, I was happy. Not because I wanted to see 24 hours of cricket, but (because) I thought now I wouldn’t miss out on any footie, because some stupid Cricket match was taking the space. But, no Sir. Now we have Star Cricket showing a match with Hindi Commentary and ESPN showing the same match with English commentary!!! Means it’ll have been 4 weeks without live Premier League action by the time next week comes around – and people wonder why I have been a cranky old man lately. All this, thanks to the darn international breaks and this T20 World Cup, which has been fun I would admit, but doesn’t even compare to watching the Reds live in action.

Time for me to hit the bed. Walk on guys – the guys in Red i.e. Ah, ok Amitabh, I’ll give you one – best of the luck to men in Blue as well for the big, big “short” game against Pakistan on Monday. Yet another “go figure” though – final of a championship on a Monday! Bring the cup home guys – it’s been 24 long years since we saw one of those babies. I just hope I haven’t jinxed it.

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For experienced Twitter users
Start following the user(s) of your choice. List of users at the end of this post.

For Twitter newbies

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Possible questions
Q) How often is an update posted?
A) Every time a player is booked/ sent-off or a goal is scored in the competition.
4 Jan ’09: Added kick-off, half time and full time updates as per Darren’s request.

Q) How do I track the scores via RSS?
A) Use the feed at the respective pages linked below.

Q) What’s with a different Twitter user for each team?
A) You might want to track the progress of selected teams only. Follow your favourite teams and you’ll be notified every time an event happens in the match involving those teams.

For example, if you start following Liverpool and there’s a Liverpool vs Aston Villa match going on, you’ll be notified every time a player is booked/ sent-off from either of those teams or when a player from either side scores a goal in that match.

Q) What’s with “All teams” Twitter user?
A) If you start following this user, you’ll receive an update whenever a player is booked/ sent-off or a goal is scored in any of the matches in the competition.

For those interested but not smart enough to figure this out by now, that means in effect, every event in the competition is posted as an update in 3 different Twitter users – that of the home team, the away team and the all teams user.

Q) What do the updates look like?
A) (Sample alerts only, I know Andorra and Estonia don’t play in the EPL!)

73′ Lima (Andorra) booked. Live score Estonia 1-1 Andorra.
87′ Silva (Andorra) scores! Live score Estonia 2-1 Andorra.
90′ Zelinski (Estonia) sent-off! Live score Estonia 2-1 Andorra.

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