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Monday, April 17, 2006

Liverpool consolidate 3rd; Man Utd keep chase as Chelsea 1pt away; derby brings Brum setback

Playing against a side that can pass the ball well in attack, have a physical strength to them that allows them to tussle well for the ball and have players who can create opportunities and strike unceremoniously, can make for a more challenging game. Both Lancashire sides Bolton and Blackburn are two who can do just that. Bolton can attack well, encouraged by the midfield runs of Gary Speed and Kevin Nolan, tenacity of Kevin Davies, wing attacks of Ricardo Gardner and Stelios Giannakopoulos, and on occasion the tight finishing of El-Hadji Diouf. Blackburn have made a late rise for even the Champions League section and have made inspirational process through the exploits of Craig Bellamy, Morten Gamst Pedersen, David Bentley, Paul Dickov, and on occasion Steven Reid's finishing. Jussi Jasskelainen and Brad Friedel have respectively added their talents to the cause.

Liverpool have now encountered both consecutively, and I'm not surprised a single goal separated the sides in both games. Both sides are difficult to break down, though a number of chances for Liverpool and Bolton could have made that game look more competitive in the scoreline. Yesterday I felt either Liverpool or Blackburn were capable of snatching victory, therefore a draw was the best I expected, possibly a 0-0 or 1-1, though on Friday I mentioned to my EFT colleague SKG that, impartially, Liverpool would snatch victory but only at 0-1. I do not know why, I just felt a victory would only bring one goal.

Yesterday my prediction should have been wrong. No Steven Gerrard nor Peter Crouch, Harry Kewell on the bench only because Dietmar Hamann pulled out with illness, Liverpool hadn't warmed to the beginning as expected. Blackburn made the most of the attacks in the opening stages but their passing was either off target nor was made to a player in a less advantageous position and Liverpool's defending stopped the attack. But incredibly Robbie Fowler chested the ball forward, Djibril Cisse aimed a foot towards it while in an offside position, play was allowed to continue, and Fernando Morientes went on to square for Fowler to finish as the Blackburn defence stopped to appeal. Frankly, the goal shouldn't have stood and I wouldn't have complained, but I'm glad it did. Yet Cisse should have scored when through on two occasions, Friedel got down well to one attempt before half time and the Frenchman had two takes on another, Friedel and Ryan Nelson intervening to stop him.

Liverpool have now consolidated 3rd place, with Spurs losing yesterday. Arsene Wenger and Phillippe Senderos said Arsenal could catch us up and overtake 3rd place, at the time when Arsenal began to produce their fast-paced pass-and-move football that has now brought them 5 wins out of the last 7. With Spurs in 4th as an added danger, the fear was Liverpool would ease of their pace and slip down, to have to fight it out for 4th but with Rafael Benitez, there is a sense that he has good strategy in dealing with selections and pushing for victory. Though we could have been sharper against the Lancashire sides, the main thing is the three points, and we have managed thirty-two clean sheets in all competitions, twenty-two of which, currently, have come in the league. 'Thank you' to the players and management of LFC, and good luck as we still push to catch Man Utd.

Speaking of Man Utd, they have kept their push for catching Chelsea with the 1-2 victory yesterday. The game was fantastic from the start, Man Utd took early possession and then both sides passed and moved against each other so well that every attack looked to produce a goal. When one did materialise, it came on the counter, Ruud Van Nistelrooy was fed by Christiano Ronaldo, Ronaldo ran on to collect a pass from VNR, and a first time square across goal found Wayne Rooney sneaking behind Young-Pyo Lee, the South Korean was not playing attention to danger behind him and wasn't in place to block the ball. He was at fault for Man Utd's second as he was closed down by his former PSV teammate and compatriot Ji-Sung Park near the corner, Rooney capitalising on the loose ball for his second. After then the tempo began to reduce, both sides lost a little of the rhythm that encapsulated the first 20-25mins, Spurs mainly giving away the ball and being blocked out by Utd's defending.

Yet the home side came back courtesy of Nemanja Vidic in the second half, who was pressured under a high ball by Jermaine Defoe, resulting in Rio Ferdinand coming to head clear for a corner. From the corner Vidic poorly headed, which came off Ferdinand towards goal for Jermaine Jenas to simply poke in. I imagined Chelsea fans were Spurs fans, Arsenal fans were Man Utd fans, for the day. But with Chelsea first having won away at Bolton and then beating Everton yesterday, they are 1pt away from mathematically reclaiming the title. That point could be achieved in their next home game against Utd.

Meanwhile this defeat further dents Spurs' hold on 4th place, a dent that occurred when Ledley King was diagnosed as suffering from a broken metatarsal and is likely to be out of the remaining games. Calum Davenport has moved into his space, and Dawson played very well to deny Utd in the second half. Spurs have Arsenal, Bolton at home then West Ham away, while Arsenal face Spurs, Sunderland and Man City away, then Wigan at home.

Just as Steve Bruce dared to believe the light was becoming brighter, someone pulled the power switch. First Matthew Upson develops an Achilles injury in warming up at Villa Park, then David Dunn comes off with a calf injury. Birmingham go a goal down then get back in it through Chris Sutton, only to poorly defend again to allow Villa to take the points. Upson isn't expected to return for the remainder. Portsmouth started excellently and looked to continue their run with another win, only for Charlton to deny them. West Brom had a chance to make their mark on the relegation zone but failed to score in a 0-0 draw with Bolton. These teams are ever so tight at the moment, with 3 or 4 games left and Portsmouth now not looking at ease as much.

My fear is Birmingham have too many influential injuries now to maintain a progressive run from Blackburn at home on Wednesday, Everton away, Newcastle at home then Bolton away. Tomorrow's match is pivotal to their hopes, the proverbial win or else. If this game is a home win, then Birmingham have a slim chance, otherwise anything else will make it too difficult to achieve survival. Portsmouth face Sunderland at home, Wigan away then home with Liverpool. I would expect they will have a good game against Sunderland, a potential away win at Wigan, and I strongly feel a defeat against Liverpool.

West Brom's scoring rate has dipped with only one goal managed in a match since their 2-0 win against Blackburn ten matches ago. Nathan Ellington has scored twice and one goal apiece has come from Nwankwo Kanu, Kevin Campbell, Curtis Davies and Nigel Quashie in a run of seven defeats and three draws. So in the remaining three games they need to a higher attacking system if they want to survive so much. They could potentially force a draw at St James' Park though I anticipate a home win, while West Ham's away record in the league is five wins out of eighteen, where West Brom could gain a draw. In their last match away to Everton, I anticipate a home win, I'm afraid.

This in total renders Birmingham and West Brom to be relegated with Sunderland. Portsmouth suffered a setback against Charlton but they have a belief that emits from their attacking that they can score well, which is something I see more with Pompey than with Birmingham and West Brom. Birmingham have Chris Sutton back but now need more of a push from Emile Heskey and Mikael Forssell to score. West Brom look to Ellington, Diomansy Kamara, captain Campbell and Kanu, but need to have Kanu playing from the start. Jonathan Greening and Zoltan Gera have ebbed in their play slightly and need to help spearhead an attack to encourage the strikers. It would help if Kamara would look up more for others as he fights and runs into good spaces near the opposition's goal. For Portsmouth, Lomano LuaLua, Pedro Mendes and Dejan Stefanovic are needed and were missing against Charlton but Gary O'Neil has made good progress in his play and Andres D'Alessandro is looking a good player, good enough to keep Pompey up.



Blogger Skippy said...

Being a Liverpool supporter I’ve never had to endure a relegation battle. Last night, I watched Westbrom v Bolton, and I could really feel the tension from my living room. For me the relegation battle is very exciting, not if a support the teams involved.

I thought United played some excellent football against Spurs. I like the way they turn defence into attack in a blink of an eye.

Liverpool were solid against Rovers, and I think they are well geared to win against Chelsea.

4/18/2006 6:22 pm

Blogger SKG said...

the top three are all in great form at the mo which is why i can see chelsea v liverpool going all the way to extra time.

the relegation battle is very close. pompey may look the stronger but i'd put my money money on west brom to stay up. they did it last season and in bryan robson they have a very good boss.

4/18/2006 9:10 pm

Blogger T said...

West Brom to stay up... you'll get good odds on that SKG!

Thanks Redsman for a comprehensive review of the current Premiership issues. You highlight Diosmansy Kamara as a player who needs to look up more and gain greater vision and awareness- and I second you with that observation! He looked really good for Senegal in the African Nations, but is abysmal for West Brom because simply he tries to go it alone all the time. One Premiership goal all season says it all about the lack of fulfiment of his potential.

For me Portsmouth are the form team and have the momentum to stay up. West Brom have not showed enough to me that they can recover their points defecit on Portsmouth. While the loss of Upson (horrifically tearing his achilles tendon) and Dunn to injury against Villa could well prove to be the hammer blow for Birmingham chances. They have a significant must win match against Blackburn at home tomorrow. If they don't win- it must be Portsmouth who will stay up.

Redsman, one omission in your review was that of Dennis Bergkamp grabbing a decisive assist and goal in the important 3-1 Arsenal victory over West Brom. The day at Highbury was desingated 'Dennis Bergkamp day' with the fans encouraged to wear Dutch orange shirts in tribute to the living football legend. He came on in the 70th minute, and then West Brom grabbed an equaliser in the 71st minute. But Dennis would not let his day go down like a lead ballon- and his composure to set up Pires in the 76th minute (what a great touch finish too by super Robert Pires!), plus delightful placed chip into the corner from 20 yards in the 89th minute, was definitely a fitting way for him to mark his day.

I reckon Arsenal should make the Spurs match on Saturday 'Thierry Henry day' with the hope that TH can deliver a similar positive result for us!

P.S. Skipper, your predictions are often spot-on, so I read your comments about the Chelsea/Liverpool cup tie with interest!

4/18/2006 10:19 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

Sorry, T, it was certainly 'Dennis Bergkamp' at Highbury on Saturday and the Dutchman came on to delight the home crowd to boot. You say I omitted it, you very well made it up for me.

I'm getting a sense that Liverpool can provide good resistence to Chelsea, and may quite well on Saturday. There's a sense of little fear and more of execution than before.

SKG, you say West Brom, I say Portsmouth. T reiterated that today's Brum game is a MUST WIN for the home side otherwise their chances of survival are little else than dust in the wind. Witht he crowd prepared already to rile up Robbie Savage, they should be on song to push the players for a victory. It should be live.


4/19/2006 2:36 pm


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