Sadio Mane becoming world-class for Liverpool

 

Sadio Mane

Ask Jurgen Klopp to list his biggest regrets from his time at Borussia Dortmund and not signing Sadio Mane is one of them. It was a mistake the German was keen to avoid at Liverpool.

When the Reds paid £36 million to secure him from Southampton, many eyebrows were raised. Some suggested Mane would be another example of the club paying over the odds for a Saint. Dejan Lovren and Adam Lallana were examples of such errant spending. Klopp had no such doubts, though.

Three years on his faith that Mane would be worth the money is justified on a weekly basis. Ask Liverpool fans who watch on a regular basis and they are have not missed Mane’s excellence. Continue reading

Defensive crisis drags down Liverpool title challenge

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As 2018 came to an end, Liverpool would have been very happy indeed. Champions League heartbreak aside they had enjoyed a very good year. Having matched Manchester City toe to toe across 2018 they entered 2019 top of the Premier League table and four points ahead of the champions.

Adding Virgil Van Dijk in the January transfer window and Alisson Becker in the summer had transformed the once weak Reds backline into a formidable outfit. 12 of their 21 games before the turn of the year had seen them keep clean sheets. They had conceded just ten goals in that period, the best in the league. Manchester City were their closest competitors with a tally of 17 conceded.

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February could be key to Liverpool winning the Premier League

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The league table doesn’t lie and as we have entered February Liverpool are still top of the standings. Their lead is just 2 points from current champions Manchester City but The Reds will play West Ham on Monday night and so they could have their 5 point lead restored.

But a 5 point lead isn’t going to quite cut it against a team like Pep Guardiola’s City side and Liverpool know they should be 7 points in front after dropping points at Anfield last week when they drew against Leicester- and in that game they were an early goal up.

This season has been all about Liverpool and the question remains, can they really win their first league title since 1990? There is also pressure on manager Jurgen Klopp who has done a terrific job, identifying which players Liverpool have needed and the team have played wonderful football since he has arrived, but awkwardly there has been no trophies as yet.

But February does seem to be the defining month for Liverpool and even though the title won’t be decided this month, it could take a large swing that way. Liverpool start the month of with a trip to West Ham. On paper this looks like 3 points and we must remember that The Reds have scored a whopping 16 goals against the Londoners in their past 4 meetings.

West Ham have been hit by a series of injuries and Liverpool will fancy their chances. However the game is in London where West Ham have already beaten Manchester United and drew with Chelsea. The month continues with a home match against Bournemouth who have been terrific at home but poor away- even an out of form Everton were able to beat Eddie Howe’s side, and this should be a good win for Liverpool.

Then comes the Champions League first leg tie again at Anfield but against a super European heavyweight in Bayern Munich. Liverpool with their fantastic atmosphere of a crowd will fancy their chances, but the feeling is that the league is more important this season- and this is another game that could take a lot out of Jurgen Klopp’s players.

The following weekend they will face the resurgent Manchester United at Old Trafford on what could prove to be a pivotal match. United do not want Liverpool to win the league- although they wouldn’t want City to win it either, but at the same time they are going for a top 4 spot, so that could well be the game of the season so far.

They then finish the month off with what could be another win, as they are back home against Watford. So there are some pressure cooker games for The Reds, then again there are for Manchester City too and even Tottenham are not that far behind. One thing for sure is that we will have a clearer picture of who will be Premier League champions at the end of the month.

Are Liverpool imploding after surprise FA Cup exit?

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At the start of the year Liverpool had much to celebrate, 7 points clear at the top of the Premier League, with the FA Cup coming up and in the knockout stages of the Champions League. It seemed that this season would be Jurgen Klopp’s one to finally pick up a trophy with the Reds. But a loss to Manchester City in the league and now being knocked out of the FA Cup by Wolves has put that dream into check.

Just one week into 2019 has seen two losses for Liverpool, who had gone 20 games unbeaten in the Premier League. There has been a body blow to the club of epic proportions. The City loss means that they have just a 4 point advantage at the top of the standings. But the cup defeat means that after starting the season with 4 possible chances of silverware, Liverpool now have 2.

Like Leicester before them one does have to wonder why Klopp decided to play a weakened team against Wolves,  a fellow Premier League opponent who also had home advantage.

His decision to rest some of his key players for the Premier League has heavily backfired and why rest them anyway, when Liverpool do not play their next game in the league for another 5 days, it is just makes no sense what Klopp has done. With Leicester who rested players when they lost to Newport County the decision seemed more bizarre given that they won’t come in the top four and won’t be relegated so why not fight on all fronts?

Alas with Liverpool, priorities might be different given that the one trophy they crave this season is the league title-something they haven’t won since 1990. And then there is the little matter of winning the Champions League and they will take on Bayern Munich in the two legged last 16 affair next month.

But then there is the matter of Klopp and how his Liverpool team have won zero trophies under him. He has spent hundreds of millions of pounds, and there have been some wonderful displays, great signings, great wins and two European finals both ending in defeat but nothing there to show for it in the end.

When the league resumes Liverpool will be under pressure to start winning games again, and of course Klopp will pick his strongest available team. His latest move feels like he is disrespecting the importance of the FA Cup, which becomes all the more apparent and bizarre given that Liverpool have not won a trophy since 2012.

How will Liverpool react to losing in the Premier League?

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For the first time this season it finally happened, Liverpool after 21 games lost a game in the Premier League.

It was a fantastic run which saw some fantastic results including only a week ago demolishing Arsenal 5-1. But the run came to an end when the Reds visited the Etihad the home of current champions Manchester City and lost 2-1 in a quite frenetic game of football.

Liverpool still have the advantage in the league and lead by 4 points as they try to win England’s top domestic competition for the first time since 1990. But now that they have lost how will Liverpool react? History has told us it is how you finally react to a loss that defines you as a champion. In the league we will have to wait another week given that cup matches take over England this weekend.

One wonders if that is a hindrance or actually a good thing for Liverpool. On one hand it’s frustrating as the team want to play their next league game, win it, and prove that the City loss was just a tiny blip. On the other hand if they can get a good FA Cup win then that could restore some confidence going into the next league match. So that remains interesting to see.

Liverpool will play Wolves and the game is away from home which could be a tricky 90 minutes for the club. The fact that they have been paired with a Premier League team at this stage of the cup is not to their advantage. But of course they will still be favourites to win. But if they did lose then a serious question will be asked, ‘are Liverpool losing their bottle?’ It has happened before and manager Jurgen Klopp will have to field a strong side and get the victory over Wolves- that match does not take place until Monday.

In the league Liverpool’s next games are against the likes of Brighton, Crystal Palace and Leicester and the last two games are at home. These are all winnable games for the club, but at the same time, you never quite know in regards to the Premier League.

It seems that February will be a big month for Liverpool where towards the end of it they will have to play Bayern Munich in the Champions League and then follow that up with an away match against Manchester United who have been in terrific form, and the Merseyside derby follows just a week after that.

There is all to play for and of course Manchester City and Tottenham will have to keep winning too, but Liverpool are under real pressure again to produce the goods when it matters. That is how hard it is to win the Premier League nowadays.

 

 

Manchester City and Liverpool clash was a great spectacle for the Premier League

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Manchester City, the current Premier League champions beat Liverpool the team in first place by 2-1 in a quite enthralling game of football which proved what we already know, the Premier League is the best league in Europe if not the world.

The intensity of the match lasted the whole 90 minutes as both teams instead of playing cautious went for the win. In truth City needed too as they were 7 points behind Liverpool coming into this game. But no one settled, ever. When City were 1-0 up they didn’t retreat to defence. When at 1-1 Liverpool did not fold their cards and think if it stays a draw this is a good result, which it would have been. No both teams went for the 3 points and one ended up getting it.

The goals were special too, including a seemingly impossible angle for Sergio Aguero which just underlines the player as one of the best Premier League strikers of all time. But it was a game full of chances, pressure, skill, magic and heartbreak and this is what the Premier League wants to advertise.

For many years the league has been touted, mostly within England, as the best league in Europe. Of course bias comes to mind when we think of that, but it does seem to be truthful in 2018.

Yes the Premier League doesn’t boast the very best players who have scooped up awards in the past few years and there hasn’t been an English club who has won the Champions League since 2012 when Chelsea beat Bayern Munich. However what league gives us such competitive football?

In Spain Barcelona have been made to work harder this year and Real Madrid have lost Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo so are experiencing a tougher season than usual, but you get the feeling the cream will rise to the top. In Italy Juventus are in the lead by over 10 points and still have not lost. But in England everything remains open- the league winner, a top 4 place and relegation, nothing is certain.

It is also the fact that every team can beat anyone. Witness Manchester City losing to Crystal Palace and Leicester. Or Tottenham so solid this season collapsing against Wolves, it happens. And it is what makes the Premier League so exciting to watch.

If we want to spend the day picking up the mistakes in the league from strikers missing good opportunities to defenders making silly decisions, that happens too- I would hazard a bet it happens in every league. But even if it does happen more in England, so what? What does it matter when the league is this competitive and exciting.

It is anyone’s guess what will happen next.

 

Is Rafa Benitez ruining his career at Newcastle United?

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How Rafa Benitez is still manager at Newcastle United is anyone’s guess. He has had major run ins with owner Mike Ashley and has not been given the budget to match his transfer requests after steering the team to Premier League football.

Benitez has been a real servant to the club and let’s not make any mistake about it Newcastle are a big club with a fine stadium and a fantastic set of supporters. But did Benitez make a huge error joining the club and has he overstayed his welcome?

It all must have hit home for him on Boxing Day when his troubled side travelled to Anfield to play Liverpool. Just over 10 years ago he was the boss man at Liverpool where he oversaw 2 Champions League finals with The Reds winning in 2005 in that infamous final with AC Milan where they came back from 3-0 down to win the trophy. Utterly memorable times. Fast forward to 2018 and Benitez saw his side lose 4-0 to Jurgen Klopp’s team one that is still unbeaten for the season, it was easy to feel sorry for how far Benitez has fallen managing a team that are in the bottom six of the league and could be relegated.

And relegated is word that Benitez has used on more than one occasion this season. Benitez has been manager of Newcastle for 2 years following his sacking at Real Madrid that lasted for 7 months after him and his coaching team made fatal errors. One of them at Madrid was fielding an ineligible player in a Copa del Rey match that meant the club were thrown out of that seasons competition. It was a schoolboy error at the biggest club in the world and could not be tolerated.

Somewhat one could argue that Benitez shied away from La Liga and the big leagues to take a job with Newcastle who were at that stage in the Championship, that decision in and of itself seemed like a shock one. But his decision seemed justified as The Magpies under his guidance were promoted to the Premier League.

But it has been a hard slog back in the league this season and Benitez has won just 42.7% of his games with the club. This is his lowest win rate since coaching in the second division of the Spanish league 21 years ago.

At 58 Benitez has time on his hands and he has at least another 10 years maybe more in the game as a coach. But one has to wonder if he has damaged his resume somewhat by sticking with Newcastle. Not seen as a lack of respect for this great team but they are not amongst the elite of some of the clubs that Benitez has coached in his career. Some believe this will be his final season with Newcastle, he has the support of the fans and after the club was relegated he stayed with them, not many coaches of his experience would have done that.

Benitez remains a very special manager but will some of the bigger clubs believe that to be true and will these past few seasons be thought of as the wilderness years for him?

Liverpool are sensing their first league title since 1990

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And then there was one- that’s right just a few weeks ago the Premier League had turned into a two horse race between Liverpool and Manchester City, but since then City have looked like a shadow of themselves losing a staggering 3 games in their last four which has set Liverpool free.

The Reds have continued to win games and at the halfway point are still unbeaten. Liverpool currently have 51 points and have pulled 7 points clear of the current champions who are of course Manchester City. Perhaps a new rival in Tottenham has emerged as their great form has seen them move past City and into 2nd place on 45 points. But Liverpool still have a big 6 point gap.

Liverpool have incredibly never won the league since it’s been known as the Premier League which was established for the beginning of the 1992-93 season. Their last title was in 1990 and so winning the league is the main priority this season above everything else. It would be absolutely huge for the club, fans and city if they were to do it and they do look like they are in pole position. For now City look like they have imploded, as for Tottenham history says that as good as the team have become they usually do not have the staying power.

The excitement then is brewing on Merseyside but maybe that kettle needs to wait to be poured as Liverpool have some tough games coming up and plenty of tests. It starts this weekend when they will take on Arsenal. Although they will be at home and be clear favourites. But Arsenal have the team to force a draw at least and they did so earlier in the season. Next week is the huge game against Manchester City and they will be away for that fixture. Let’s be honest these two matches will be very interesting to watch and if Liverpool got maximum points from these games we have to seriously start thinking that they can win the league.

Jurgen Klopp’s team will also have the FA Cup and Champions League to contend with in between but after those two very dangerous fixtures Liverpool will not face a top 6 rival until the end of February when they will take on Manchester United at Old Trafford.

It is going to be a fascinating season that is for sure and even though Liverpool are not over the line, and we have to remind ourselves we are only at the halfway point of the season they are looking like the strongest team in England right now.

In football everything can change so quickly, just ask Pep Guardiola and Manchester City.

 

Jose Mourinho’s 3rd season syndrome strikes again as he is sacked from Manchester United

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Jose Mourinho has been sacked as manager of Manchester United and it should come as no surprise that this has happened, especially as he had just begun his 3rd season in charge of the club.

That’s right 3rd season syndrome has hit the Portuguese manager once again just as it did with Chelsea and Real Madrid in the past and even at Inter Milan, where he won the treble in his 3rd season it still ended up being his last, as he jumped ship. This time just like his second nightmarish experience at Chelsea that ship came calling for him.

At the end of the day losing 3-1 to a great rival like Liverpool and then having it confirmed that your club is 19 points behind them was just too much for the Manchester United hierarchy. Let it be known when he could have been sacked as early as September that the board did seem to give ‘the special one’ more and more time to prove them wrong, but he couldn’t.

Mourinho is sadly now yesterdays man. He can’t seem to stand any confrontation, but players have changed in the past 10 years when he could do very little wrong. The likes of Paul Pogba for example will post things on social media and time and again Mourinho has taken something very innocent out of context, he is in fact like the school teacher who is set in his ways. The result is that he isn’t like Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp who can get the best out of their players. Truth is the new generation of manager also needs to be there for the players and act like a friend at least inside of work.

Mourinho is simply uncapable of that, in some ways he is  a devoted professional and sees the role of a football manager very differently, but it doesn’t work, and if he can’t change then Manchester United should be his last coaching job. Of course for someone who wants to be professional, two things strike to mind that let Mourinho down at his time in Old Trafford. The first was blaming players through the media- what does this do to a footballer? They will simply lack more confidence and not want to play for you. The second was showing no commitment to United. What other manager moves into a hotel for 3 years?

Mourinho’s signings were also  very questionable. Why bring back Pogba for £90m? His signing of Arsenal player Alexis Sanchez looked like a good one, but then he didn’t know how he was going to play him, result, Sanchez has looked like one of the poorest players to have ever graced the Premier League, and yet we know he isn’t. There was a battle to sign Fred, with the United board not wanting to spend, result, Mourinho gets his own way and then hardly plays him.

It will be fascinating where Mourinho ends up next, and one has to wonder if any major club in Europe will want to touch him, although Inter Milan must have fond memories of him. As for United it is expected they will take in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer until the end of the season and then offer the job to Zinedine Zidane. Solskjaer is on a win -win situation if he takes the job for the next five months and the fans love and respect him.

Manchester United have not been the club we once knew, perhaps now with this change which was needed we will see a possible re-emergence.

 

The Premier League has turned into a two horse race between Manchester City and Liverpool

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What, where when? Just when we thought a few weeks ago that there were at least four teams capable of winning the Premier League, everything has all of a sudden opened up. After the midweek games which was the 15th round of matches in England two teams have emerged as possible title winners. The first and in top place is champions Manchester City, the second is Liverpool who have yet to win a Premier League title and have not won England’s top division since 1990.

So how did Chelsea and Tottenham suddenly fall away from contention? Maurizio Sarri’s side have won just 1 game in their past four matches and yet up until the 12th game of the season he had an unbeaten side at his disposal. But first they were exposed by Tottenham at Wembley, easily losing 3-1. They bounced back against Fulham in the west London derby only to lose to Wolves, which was seen as a shock result given how poor Wolves have been in the past month.

Chelsea are now 10 points behind City and are clinging onto 4th place only on goal difference to Arsenal. Tottenham in beating Southampton are back in 3rd place after being dislodged in the top 4 over the weekend when they lost to eternal nemesis Arsenal by 4-2. But Spurs have bounced back well. But they are still evidently a few levels below City and Liverpool, they have 33 points and are 8 points behind the league leaders.

All of this means of course that the league has turned into a two horse race before Christmas, although the flurry of fixtures could well shake that up. Manchester City will play Chelsea away next and a win for Pep Guardiola’s side will surely signal the end of Chelsea’s title hopes. Games follow against Everton, Crystal Palace, Leicester and Southampton. It is fair to think that from all of those matches City could expect 13 points which would put them on 54 before the year is out.

As for Liverpool who are the romantics choice of league winners giving how it has been 28 years since they won the league they will have to play Bournemouth, Manchester United, Wolves, Newcastle and Arsenal. The Reds seem to have a tougher run and could end up with 11 points which would put them on 50.

It is possible then that only 4 points will separate the two teams. And you can guess which fixture comes after the new year- that’s right these two teams will meet and it will be Manchester City who will be at home in what could be a big step to deciding the title. Still there are plenty of games to be played before then and like a typical Premier League campaign there will be plenty of twists and turns that is for sure.