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Thursday, October 20, 2005

English football benefitting from CL participation

As European football for British clubs draws to a close tonight, reflection over the Champions League matches conjures images of some fine playwork and ability from those taking part. Arsenal and Man Utd went first on Tuesday and we remember the Gunners were coming over with an injury list that could fill up their subs bench, and a hurting from The Hawthorns, aptly named for the feeling West Brom left Arsenal with. Man Utd are practically equal to Arsenal's injuries' demise, and they too could have slipped up away against lower opposition but instead held good against Sunderland.

Much was made of Thierry Henry's inclusion in the squad and I predicted Arsene Wenger would recall the iconic Frenchman and club skipper into play later on into the game, but such has the luck been for Arsenal that Jose Antonio Reyes suffered an injury and had to be replaced, by none other than. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, goeth the all-time scoring record. It was 6mins before Henry came on, taking the armband from he who is equal to it in his absence (and that of Dennis Bergkamp and Sol Campbell), Gilberto Silva, picked up the ball sent by Kolo Toure upon his right heel, pause and add hesitency into the Prague defence, allowing him to pick his spot and aim. The goal was clinically executed, superb, Henry. And there was surprise expressed at his inclusion??? The second goal was well worked too, Robert Pires, helping out mainly the central midfield at times, sending a curled through ball for Henry to typically pick up and dispose of. Before his appearance, the Gunners were seeking but not applying and they needed some guidance with experience. There you are.

Man Utd were said to have a decent testing side in Lille between them and three points but for me the Red Devils didn't have enough application going forward as one would expect. Wayne Rooney an absentee, yes, but Ruud Van Nistelrooy can finish off teams on his own. Christiano Ronaldo has the talent to raise expectations that something will happen, but last night it kept failing to occur. He can run and cut up players with speed but someone like VNR wants to have regular service and it wasn't coming often enough. Rio Ferdinand is having a fluctuating season and is currently unsteady, his mistake allowed Peter Odemwingie a chance on Edwin Van Der Sar to no avail. The dive by the Lille forward was cringing to see replayed. Keeper Tony Sylva was equal to two good efforts and was stationary for Ryan Giggs' freekick. Otherwise it was something near to a lacklustre performance, notably made worse by Paul Scholes being sent off. I saw a 4-5-1 but with Scholes banned, injuries and Rooney returning, Sir Alex should consider the old 4-4-2, Darron Fletcher and Alan Smith between Ronaldo and Park Ji-Sung.

Liverpool did the job yesteday and it was well needed, coming from a decent Blackburn win. To remain within top spot nothing else would do and Anderlecht were aiming to stop the defeating run in the competition that ran over 9 games. Nice goal from Djibril Cisse, volleying straight from a corner, which should emphasise the importance of his selection, and though Anderlecht were close early on through Bart Goor, Pepe Reina's right foot kept his effort out. Reina was called again to thwart Anthony Vanden Borre's shot, and the Champions had to respond. From then John Arne Riise made a number of chances, Luis Garcia guilty of an awful touch over the bar from close range, Riise himself went close with an effort just past the far post. But the applause goes to Xabi Alonso, who constantly retreated to help out the defence on occasions and sprayed the ball left and right as if distributing business cards on the high street. In contrast Mohammed Sissoko had an off game but overall his form can allow for it for he will return to correct it.

But I write this article mainly with the thoughts of Chelsea and Michael Essien. The villian on Saturday, he was the main bolt in midfield that kept the machinery turning and moving, Frank Lampard had a nice lie-back for once. I can see how Jose Mourinho envisioned Steven Gerrard and Lampard together, because Essien looked a very good alternative last night. Tackling, passing and overall participation was much better than before. If no one saw the match, I believe highlights will be on Football Focus on BBC1 Saturday noon. Otherwise, there's little to be said. I have to say that Chelsea have enjoyed 'home' matches so far, with Anderlecht, Liverpool (held in the UK, so for me counts as much as home as Stamford Bridge), and Real Betis. The Spanish side are 12th in La Liga with 2 wins, 2 defeats, 3 draws, and a goal difference of -2 and it showed. On paper, it's the equivalent of Liverpool playing at the Bernabeu, only that we have a -1 gd and one more draw, but I think we would stand a better chance there than Betis had at Chelsea. Betis conceded poorly and defended lamely. Mourinho said "After 13 goals in games against Liverpool, Bolton and Betis, people can see it is our intention to win, play well and score goals."

You think?? It's not proof of intention, rather it's proof of being in contention. The interesting thing is all sides meet again in a fortnight, and for Liverpool we'll hopefully enjoy the home status (practially) in our remaining games. It was good to see Harry Kewell back again and I should think he needs a few matches to get into the fitness to play well again. With a decent run up to when Anderlecht visit, Rafael Benitez could deploy Cisse with one out of Crouch, Morientes or Kewell now, Garcia on the right and Riise on the left, Warnock at left-back. Josemi had a decent game last night and could hold on to right-back with Steve Finnan currently injured. These final CL games could make for a rise in performances domestically and in Europe.



Blogger T said...

Good analysis Redsman. Arsenal have been presented with perhaps one of the most lightweight groups ever; and must say that Betis is a shadow of the team that did so well in Spain- which is a shame.

Arsenal Liverpool and Chelsea are just about locked-on to qualify after just three games. Man Utd are top after three games but only scored two goals- which says something about the tight nature of their group. Man Utd should ease through with a good result in Lille.

Redsman and other Pool supporters, I have a question: do you think Liverpool look a more assured side in Europe than in the Premiership?

10/20/2005 11:32 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

Not assured in Europe but I sense we have confidence in matching teams to score. I thought it was amusing to hear the Anderlecht coach Frank Vercauteren state Liverpool will have to improve to retain the trophy otherwise Chelsea are prime firm favourites to take it, without any mention of the other teams, Real Mardid, Barcelona, AC Milan, Lyon, etc. Anderlecht came back at us in the 2nd half where we sat back to absorb their attack and could have paid for it but for their finishing. I think the most comfortable thing, particularly with Rafael, is that we are creating chances regularly, and, as I have said before, there will come a moment when we will score out of habit.

Whether the competition in the CL is stronger than the Premiership is debatable. We have seen Premiership teams surge ahead from the beginning only to falter by Xmas and more so after wards. LFC fans are anxious because there is alot more expectation folowing the CL win and the number of signings but realistically we must be patient.

Though we are in the bottom half, once the team firmly grasp a collective desire to finish off chances we will win games. The team is much stronger than before and Rafael's arrival is no coincidence. And the CL is a different platform to the league, with initially three teams to face twice as opposed to 19 teams.


10/21/2005 12:23 pm


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