West Brom V Liverpool: match report

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A particularly stale encounter in the Black Country on Easter Sunday saw Liverpool take another step towards Champions League qualification while West Brom’s stagnation after reaching the 40-point mark continued. Before the fireworks at Old Trafford Jurgen Klopp’s men took their chance to establish themselves even more in the hunt for the top four and heap further pressure on those behind – including Mourinho’s men in Manchester. Roberto Firmino got the solitary goal – and managed to keep his shirt on – in a hard-fought 1-0 victory at The Hawthrones.

 

West Brom by comparison look to be on their holidays – mentally if nothing else. Now past the magical 40-point mark and with their Premier League status promised for at least another campaign the hard work for the Baggies has been done. Perhaps this speaks to a wider problem about the ambition at West Brom, but most of their players looked to have downed tools and lacked motivation – so much so that Pulis was screaming encouragement throughout the whole 90 minutes instructing each player when to close down, take on their full-back and so on.

 

The game started with Liverpool half asleep in the opening two minutes being sloppy from two throw-ins to the annoyance of Klopp on the touchline. West Brom failed to capitalise on their visitor’s slow start however with little creativity from their midfield. A huge area of need this summer if West Brom are to build on their impressive season.

 

The first big chance of the tussle fell to Firmino after a quarter of an hour. Claudio Jacob lost possession to Philippe Coutinho inside the West Brom final third. Coutinho then slid in his fellow Brazilian with a deft ball in. Firmino’s effort was scuffed but had Ben Foster beat, instead trickling past his far post.

 

West Brom endeavoured to get down the flanks with Matt Phillips and Nacer Chadli the likely benefactors from deep balls by Jake Livermore and Chris Brunt. Perhaps just the lack of a high-quality playmaker all that was missing to really carved Liverpool open down the sides.

 

On the other side, Liverpool’s high end architects were struggling. Coutinho and Firmino were smothered under the organisation that came with a Tony Pulis side.

 

West Brom’s success from set pieces caused them to spring into life and maraud forward when anything as little as a throw in in Liverpool’s final third presented itself. Phillips’ throw ins were no match for those of Rory Delap and the Stoke side of nearly a decade ago which built theirs, and Pulis’ reputation, as a rugged, no-nonsense outfit.

 

Right on the stroke of half time it was Liverpool taking a page out of their opposition’s book. James Milner’s free-kick was flicked on by Lucas and found Firmino all alone in the six-yard area to nod past Foster. The goal was uncharacteristic from both sides. It is not often that Liverpool make the most of set pieces, and it was even less likely that West Brom surrender back-to-back headers to two Brazilians whom both measure under six feet tall. Firmino’s 12th goal of the season undoing all of the effort West Brom had put in with Pulis’ constant instructions from the side line counting for naught at the interval.

 

The home side conducted a small meeting before the second half got underway with captain Darren Fletcher offering encouragement amongst other things to try and spark some life into West Brom.

 

Hal Robson-Kanu, surprisingly making just his first home start for West Brom since joining in the summer, Offered the Baggies the best route to goal but too many times found himself compromised by the linesman’s chequered flag.

 

Liverpool offered more creativity and incision after the break with Divock Origi and Firmino exploiting the extra half a yard of space left behind by the West Brom midfield as they attempted to restore parity.

 

Milner was offered the chance to seal the game early in the second half after a delightful chipped ball from Firmino found the midfielder turned left-back in acres of space only for the England international to blaze his effort straight over the crossbar. A finish befitting of a full-back. Firmino could only offer up a knee slide in despair and not, as he probably anticipated, in celebration.

 

Liverpool briefly had a second which was quickly chalked off after Firmino had just leaned into an offside position before cushioning a header back into the path of Origi who calmly headed the ball into Ben Foster’s goal. The diminutive Brazilian was starting to find more leaks in the West Brom damn with Jurgen Klopp looking for his side to make it burst. An extra worry for Pulis surely had to be that his usually robust defensive outfit were losing headers to a slight midfield playmaker.

 

After just over an hour the Baggies boss had seen enough and threw on Salomon Rondon and James McClean, although Rondon himself has not been in great goal-scoring form with no goals in 17 club games since his hattrick against Swansea.

 

The home side’s biggest chance fell to Phillips after a powerful run from Rondon had Liverpool’s defence, often questioned but comfortable on the day, scrambling to stop the burly Venezuelan. His pass found Phillips on the inside left of the penalty area and the winger could only take aim and fire his effort into the onrushing Simon Mignolet.

 

A mad scrap ensued in the final moments of the game with the West Bromwich faithful roaring mightily with every set piece earned. The proceedings even saw Foster come up from his goal for an injury time corner – and nearly resulting in disaster. Substitute Alberto Moreno won the ball from the corner and tried his luck from all of 45-yards but completely missed the target, much to the disgust of Daniel Sturridge, when Foster a full 60-yards back from his own net. Amazingly, Foster stayed rooted in the heart of the Liverpool half in a desperate bid to snatch a leveller but to no avail. A smile of relief greeted Klopp upon hearing the ringing of the full-time whistle.

 

Klopp will care little that his side failed to provide their usual swashbuckling best, as at this stage of the season it is all about the three points which propel the Merseysiders into third – nine points ahead of fifth placed Everton and heaping even more pressure on Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger.

Liverpool title chase a lost cause with a bad defence

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Saturday’s 3-2 home loss to Swansea saw Liverpool’s season in a microcosm. While breathtakingly entertaining, their weak backline became exposed. It’s the third time this season that The Reds have shipped three goals in a single game.

 

Jurgen Klopp’s side have already conceded 27 goals this season, more than five title winning sides conceded over a 38-game span. The average number of goals conceded by a title winning team is 32 and Liverpool are set to go over that number, probably by some distance.

 

Having based their recent title-tilts on attack over defence Klopp’s Liverpool is now facing the same problem as Brendan Rodgers’ did during their 2013/14 title charge. Liverpool conceded 50 goals that season while scoring an almighty 101. Winners City conceded 13 less while scoring an equally impressive 102 goals.

 

The Reds’ erratic defending has heaped pressure on their forwards. Starting as they meant to go on their opening day clash with Arsenal saw them roar into a 4-1 leading midway through the second half only to hang on for dear life as their defence capitulated allowing Arsenal to get the score back to 4-3 with just 15 minutes remaining. While many praised Liverpool for not buckling while The Gunners attempted to stage a great comeback the bigger issue at hand was that Liverpool could not go an entire season conceding at that level. Unfortunately, the issues that plagued them in August are still there in January.

 

Klopp has invested in his back line with the additions of centre-backs Joel Matip, Ragnar Klavan as well as goalkeeper Loris Karius to provide competition for Simon Mignolet. While Matip shows signs he will develop into a very good centre half Estonian international Klavan remains a liability at the back. Klopp has turned to James Milner to help fix their problem at left-back with Alberto Moreno lacking positional sense. Neither Karius or Mignolet cuts a figure of a shot-stopper who can be the backbone of a title-winning side.

 

Only twice has a team lifted the Premier League when conceding at least 40 goals – Manchester United on both occasions. Liverpool have conceded at least 40 goals for six straight seasons and look odds on to make that reach seven.

 

Swashbuckling attack has never been an issue for Liverpool with them able to match the very best when going forward. Klopp has moulded an exciting array of firepower but what his side lacks when compared to front-runners Chelsea, and the great Manchester United sides of years gone by, is organisation at the back with solid defenders and a world class goalkeeper. For all their brilliance going forward the method simply is not sustainable.

 

Liverpool’s approach at times could often be labelled as chaotic – perhaps much like their brilliant German manager. Their attack so fast and furious the opposition can’t have a moment to breath, head-spinning speed and movement and in Saido Mane they have a forward with power as well as pace. Their chaos is a double-edged sword however, transferring to their backline where The Reds all too often scramble around making it painfully obvious that their organisation and communication is a huge weak spot.

 

For the next few transfer windows Klopp’s objective should be clear: get better defenders. Dejan Lovren has not recaptured his form which earned him a move to Liverpool from Southampton, James Milner, while having an outstanding season at full-back, is more there out of necessity due to Alberto Moreno’s ineffectiveness. Nathaniel Clyne has been solid in his right-back role and, along with Milner, is their most consistent performer in defence.

 

Klopp has certainly brought his “heavy metal” football to Anfield, his vision is starting to take shape to the joy of spectators but their lack of solid foundations at the back is what has always been, and continues to be, their undoing.

 

Martial welcomes Ibrahimovic – but there is cause for concern

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You don’t buy a Ferrari to drive it like a Fiat, a brash Zlatan Ibrahimovic once screamed at then Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola. Unhappy with his role – playing second fiddle to Lionel Messi – Ibrahimovic has been difficult to keep happy throughout his career.

 

Ibrahimovic is expected to announce his next club on Tuesday along with the launch of his clothing brand. The Swede is also expected to sign for Manchester United in what would be one of the worst kept secrets in football.

 

Anthony Martial is one of a number of United players who is welcoming the 34-year-old to Old Trafford but in the case of the French forward, there could be a cause for concern.

 

The young Frenchman ended the season poised to become the man at Manchester United like so many before him. Ryan Giggs, Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney. Yet he could return playing second fiddle to a man who while a genius on the ball is well known for being rather self absorbed.

 

Ibrahimovic throughout his career has always felt that the team should revolve around him. No doubt he is one of the best players in Europe and in his earlier years teams have been constructed to work with his strengths and cover what few weaknesses he has. However, last season ended with Manchester United in prime position to build around a sensation of their own in Martial.

 

Martial burst onto the scene with a sensational solo goal against Liverpool. The 19-year-old went on to be one of few bright spots in Louis van Gaal’s reign as he ended the 2015/16 season on the cusp of being a genuine superstar.

While he occupied the left hand side for the majority of the season the arrival of Ibrahimovic could well see Martial’s rise to stardom stutter – for a year at least. Marcus Rashford’s progress also.

 

It was clear that the former Monaco front man was becoming the star of the new Manchester United. Like Wayne Rooney before him, Martial could symbolise a new era at Old Trafford. In 2004 Sir Alex Ferguson paid around £30m for an exceptionally talented forward and years later it could be argued that it was the best £30m ever spent in football.

 

The budding superstar commanded a similar fee – depending on which reports you believe – and has flashed similar abilities of the 18-year-old Rooney. Rooney soon became the heart of the Man United team along with Cristiano Ronaldo and formed one of the deadliest front lines Europe has ever seen along with Carlos Tevez.

 

Martial possesses a similar ability and will blossom into just as formidable player if the team is constructed around him as it once was with Rooney.

 

Ibrahimovic will enter Old Trafford as Jose Mourinho’s guy. The pair have a bond stronger than most brothers. Hardly a surprise when you consider their respective personalities. Martial, as talented as he is, is not Mourinho’s guy. He is yet to build up the former Chelsea boss’ trust and that counts for a lot in a Jose Mourinho team.

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SOLNA, SWEDEN – JUNE 05: Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Sweden and Andy King of Wales during the international friendly between Sweden and Wales at Friends Arena on June 5, 2016 in Solna, Sweden. (Photo by Mikael Sjoberg/Ombrello/Getty Images)

We have seen talented players such as Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bryune suffer and ultimately be exiled due to Mourinho’s lack of faith in their ability. The pair have since gone on to become two of the most sought after talents in world football but it was Mourinho’s show – as it always is.

 

Martial made United tick with his directness and pace down the left hand side giving defenders nightmares. His injury time winner against Everton in the F.A. Cup semi-final was the kind of moment in time which all young sensations have. Will Martial’s effectiveness and boldness on the ball suffer with the demand to cater to Ibrahimovic’s ego?

 

Manchester United fans are excited about the arrival of the legendary Swede and they have a right to be. But for all his goal scoring prowess there are a selection of Red Devils supporters than have forgotten about how much of a prima donna he can be. Edinson Cavani, now settled with life at PSG, once had huge issues having arrived at the club as the most feared striker in Europe following his time at Napoli only to find himself out of position and pandering to Ibrahimovic up front.

 

Ibrahimovic possesses a lifetime of football experience but has never been one to mentor. A man who first and foremost looks after his own interests and expects the rest of the team to fall in line. Such an attitude will shackle United’s French sensation and even if it is only for a year we have seen what a draining of confidence can do. Memphis Depay and Angel Di Maria are perfect examples from within the club.

 

Manchester United have always been a club that have made young superstars the hub of their team. Sir Alex constructed a team around the class of ’92 and later around Ronaldo and Rooney waving in a new age of success. Perhaps that United is well and truly dead and buried as the era of short term success takes over.

 

While Ibrahimovic is the star name – Martial is the longer term option. There has never been a signing more representative of the era Manchester United occupy. A short term signing for short term success.

WWL: 5 things from Liverpool vs Sevilla, Europa League final

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during the UEFA Europa League Final match between Liverpool and Sevilla at St. Jakob-Park on May 18, 2016 in Basel, Switzerland.

Sevilla and their manager Unai Emery created history in Switzerland on Wednesday night as they became the first team to win the UFEA Europa League three times in a row. Sevilla came from behind to win 3-1 in a game that featured some chaotic attacking and fantastic finishing – Daniel Sturridge’s opener the pick of the bunch. Jurgen Klopp has now lost his second final as Liverpool manager and miss out on a chance to play Champions League football next season. Here are five things we learned from a breathtaking final.

 

5. Where’s Moreno?

Alberto Moreno was all at sea for Sevilla’s equaliser just 17 seconds into the second half. Firstly a poor headed clearance and then missed a tackle on Mariano before getting nutmegged. A nightmare 17 seconds for Moreno and after that he capitulated. We’ve seen similar performances from the Spanish left back in the past but on the biggest stage of his Liverpool career he fell to pieces after playing a big hand in dragging Sevilla, who had been awful in the first half, back into the game. Moreno nearly gave away another goal as he was caught ball watching while the electric Kevin Gameiro drifted off him. Only Simon Mignolet prevented it from getting worse a lot sooner.

 

Moreno’s miserable night was capped off when Coke ghosted in on the left hand side to controversially put the Spanish outfit 3-1 up to complete an total defensive collapse from the entire Liverpool team – save for Kolo Toure who was excellent on the night.

 

4. Game of two halves

The biggest cliché in football was evident in this final. Liverpool were in complete control in the early stages of the game and Sturridge’s outstanding, bending shot which found the right side of the goal was Liverpool’s just desserts. Liverpool were dominant and could have had another goal or two before the break – even having a Dejan Lovren goal disallowed for Sturridge in an offside position and flailing his leg at the ball, thus interfering with play. Sturridge, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho ran proceedings and it was the English side that looked like the back-to-back winners of the competition.

 

Then all the momentum was sucked from Liverpool in the opening 17 seconds of the second half. Sevilla looked reenergised. It must have been the team talk of his life from Emery as his side came at Liverpool in waves and never looked like relenting. Klopp could only look on in concern as he saw his full backs exposed, wingers pinned back and his forward isolated up front struggling to hold up the ball. The German manager threw on Divock Origi and Christian Benteke on to try and give Sturridge some support but it was too late, Sevilla were in cruise control. Gameiro, Coke, Mariano and Ever Banega extinguished any Liverpool attacking threat and gave their defence nightmares.

 

3. Credit Klopp

When Jurgen Klopp came to Liverpool in October he inherited a Brendan Rodgers side that needed ‘so much work’. Fast forward to the middle of May and he’s taken them to two finals. Granted that they lost both but nobody envisioned that Klopp could work such wonders with the group of players he inherited. Liverpool fans will no doubt hurt now but they will be immensely proud of what they have achieved since Klopp arrived. Liverpool do need to recruit a number of players in the summer but they are in good hands with the charismatic German. James Milner said after the game that they didn’t do themselves justice on the night but knocking out rivals Manchester United, their comeback against Borussia Dortmund and their brilliant display against Villarreal will be moments to look back on with pride. None of this was even in a Liverpool fan’s dreams before Klopp came in.

 

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during the UEFA Europa League Final match between Liverpool and Sevilla at St. Jakob-Park on May 18, 2016 in Basel, Switzerland.

2. Width killed Liverpool

Emery is an astute tactician when it comes to making changes at half time and on the fly. He set up his side to attack the flanks of Liverpool and it paid off. Mariano bombed up and down the right hand side at will and while Moreno was exposed he had very little help from Philippe Coutinho. Nathaniel Clyne on the other side faired a little better although he too had some hairy moments and it was from his side that the ball came in for Coke’s second goal that effectively killed off the game.

 

The beneficiary from the increase in width was French forward Gameiro who found more space through the middle as the second half went on. Soon after he scored his 29th goal of the season to put his side back on level terms he could have put them ahead breaking down the centre of the pitch only for Toure to make a superb last ditch tackle. Emery won the battle of tactics and in the end it became a rather comfortable victory.

 

1. Emery’s stock rising

A third Europa League will no doubt prick up the ears of bigger clubs around Europe. In three years the former Valencia boss has lifted three European titles and he has done it while losing his best players year after year. Ivan Rakitic, Carlos Bacca, Federico Fazio, Aleix Vidal and Moreno himself have all moved on since Sevilla won the first of their hattrick of titles in 2014. To keep replenishing the squad with so many key players leaving – not to mention rotational players being on the move too, Emery has done an incredible job to maintain the level of success he has done.

 

The knock on him may be that his side does not perform well in the Champions League but when you consider that during the Champions League group stages the squad may still be gelling then it is no surprise at their exit from Europe’s biggest competition.

 

It will be interesting to see if any big clubs in England, France or Italy start to sniff around the Sevilla manager with European success so hard to come his unique triumph will have put him on every club’s radar.

 

China mega money shows where player’s priorities lie

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The January transfer window was a rather understated affair to previous years gone by. No last minute huge deal, no club scrambling at the 11th hour to grab anybody they could to fill a void in the squad. Overall a very meek and mild month.

 

What was the most remarkable turn of events throughout the entire opening month of 2016 was the amount of top class players leaving huge European clubs and heading for China. Alex Teixeira is the latest superstar to follow Jackson Martinez and Ramires in the last month. Other players making their mark in Asia are: Gervinho, Demba Ba, Paulinho, Asamoah Gyan and Tim Cahill.

 

Tim Cahill is excused due to this being the twilight of his career, however for the rest the moves to Asia are puzzling – or a no brainer when considering their contracts. Chinese football broke their transfer record three times within a week with the three latest mega stars arriving in the Chinese Super League. What makes the moves of Martinez, Ramires and Teixeira different to those of Ba and Gervinho is that the former are genuine stars – Champions League winners, winners of their native league for five straight seasons and one of the most sought after forwards in world football.

 

A sad reality has dawned that players more than ever have a lazy attitude of money and easy success over playing in the best league and against the best players week in week out. Unless for a pre-season tour these players won’t be going head to head with Lionel Messi, Robert Lewendowski or Mesut Ozil – at least for now.

 

Not so long ago all players had a universal attitude of wanting to play with and against the best in the world’s best competitions. These three transfers showcase otherwise. Chinese clubs are now locked in an arms race to recruit some of the world’s finest talent, a battle which has now turned its attention to Chelsea captain John Terry as it has been announced he will not be offered a new deal to stay with the Blues.

 

The calibre of player leaving for China is astonishing considering that they could fit into many teams around the world – Arsenal are constantly after another forward, Liverpool chased Teixeira and Ramires – although often underappreciated – is incredibly clever and the engine room of any midfield. The Chinese Super League have exposed the vast amounts of money involved in the game and have courted these players with huge contracts, bonuses and no doubt various other financial perks to tempt them to what is still a substandard league compared to that from which they all came from.

 

Jurgen Klopp said he respected Teixeira’s decision but it has to be a bitter pill to swallow for Liverpool – outmuscled by a club in Jiangsu Suning who only turned professional 22 years ago. Ten years ago a scenario like this would have been unheard of – a top, historical English club beaten to a player by way of a club with huge resources but is not respected in football terms. The former Shakhtar Donetsk player described the offer from Liverpool as ‘windy’ – a vague and unsatisfying explanation. Liverpool were only three million away from the asking price and could very well have shot themselves in the foot with their reluctance to part with it.

 

Players have always wanted to make a lot of money – as much of it as possible that has never been a secret. The most important thing to a player however, was to always play with and against the best players possible in the best league possible. The big pull of each of Europe’s biggest leagues in their big clubs with a lot of history and world class players. If a player plays on a consistent basis and shows their worth then the riches will follow. Cristiano Ronaldo, Eden Hazard, Mesut Ozil to name a few are testament to that.

 

Martinez – although only finding the net three times for Atletico Madrid, still possesses huge quality and his record at previous club Porto is nothing to be taken lightly – 67 goals in 90 appearances. Now at 29-years-old the Colombian forward has placed his career in a tricky position, should he ever want to leave China many clubs will find it tough to match his wages as well as the fee his club will probably demand. Martinez is a player who has featured in matches of the highest caliber to take a huge step down after a failed spell at Atletico seems a defeatist attitude. China does not seem the place to revitalize his career and reputation if that was the plan – beating goalkeepers of maybe League One caliber at best. Strikers with his type of record do not come on the market often, there would have been a long queue of clubs, perhaps not as big as Atletico but still reputable enough to see Martinez stay relevant in the football stratosphere.

 

It seems more now than ever players have an attitude of simply chasing the large wage slips. The Premier League has recently come in danger of losing out on players to La Liga, Bundasliga, and even Ligue One with PSG’s riches – However all of those leagues and teams have a certain amount of credibility within the football pyramid. For teams to lose out on players to the Chinese Super League shows that there is no longer room for Premier League teams to play hardball when it comes to negotiating fees and wages. History and club stature is starting to count for very little in this money fuelled game. Although Ramires, Martinez and Teixeira will earn sums beyond what many world class players in Europe will they have all but cast their name into football irrelevance.