Archive | May, 2011

Barcelona sublime in Champions League win

29 May

If you didn’t get a chance to watch the Champions League final yesterday, you are missing out. Barcelona put on a masterful performance to win the European title over Manchester United, 3-1.

  • Thank goodness the game was decided on the field, by the players.  There was no controversial sending-off, no shot-from-the-stands diving and no B.S. penalties – as it should be.
  • I love watching Barcelona play.  They all work so well together, it almost seems unfair.  And of course, there’s the passing, which is jaw-dropping.  They are so patient with the ball, watching for just the right opportunities to attack the goal.  And because of their ridiculous amount of possession, it made United work all the harder to even try to get the ball back.
  • I wish I could play like Xavi.  That man has phenomenal vision.
  • United started the game strongly, forcing Barcelona into uncharacteristic bad passes and mistakes.  The Spanish side soon settled down and took over proceedings.  United got some fire back after Rooney’s equalizer, but the second half was all Barcelona.
  • Why, oh why would you give Lionel Messi any room to operate?  Even though Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand made some excellent last ditch tackles, Messi had all the space in the world to receive the ball and run at the defenders at pace.  One of the reasons he was able to score his goal was that neither Vidic or Evra closed him down.  I still can’t believe the best player in the world is only 23 years old.  Scary.
  • Even though Barcelona was clearly the better side, props to Manchester United for not giving up, especially after the third Barca goal.
  • United tried to play the same way they have all year, but they were unable to come up with a way to contain Barcelona.  Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs were outclassed in the midfield.  Antonio Valencia had a less than memorable outing and Chicarito was unable to take advantage of his speed up top.  Rooney played well, but couldn’t spark a miracle comeback.
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Positive changes have LFC looking toward bright future

27 May

Liverpool didn’t exactly finish the season on the best of notes, getting shut out in its last two games against Tottenham and Aston Villa.  The losses meant that the Reds finished in sixth place, one spot out of Europa League qualification.  Even though it’s disappointing to not be playing in Europe, who would have thought we’d even have a chance at it in January?  I, for one, thought we would be lucky to even finish in the top half of the table, but oh, how things can change over the course of a year.

2010-11 was one hell of a dramatic season for Liverpool with the painfully long, drawn-out ownership battle taking center stage early on and fraying nerves everywhere.   It didn’t help of course that the team was playing rather poorly and looking like they would all rather get a root canal than be on the pitch.  In the end, the bad guys were ousted and John Henry and Fenway Sports Group took over.  While new ownership does not necessarily mean success is in the offing, John Henry and co. helped kick start the change in atmosphere around the club.

It wasn’t too long before they decided that Roy Hodgson was not the right man to lead Liverpool.  At the point of his termination, Hodgson had the Reds in 12th place and only four points clear of the bottom three – clearly unacceptable.  For the first five months of the season, the team looked like a bunch of lost puppies out there.  There was no hustle, no passion, no heart.  It was incredibly depressing to watch.

Enter one Kenny Dalglish.  You might have heard of him, he’s a little bit of a legend.  He signed on to be the caretaker manager of the club through the rest of the season after Hodgson’s departure and there couldn’t be a starker contrast between the sides PD (pre-Dalglish) and AD (After Dalglish).  While Hodgson’s side relied way too heavily on the long ball, Dalglish clearly emphasized the importance of passing.  It did take a little bit of time for the players to get used to the system (LFC did lose its first two games under Dalglish), but once they did, they were a new (and dangerous) team.

Of course, the season’s drama couldn’t simply go away with the hiring of a new manager.  During the January transfer window, rumours started popping up about Fernando Torres wanting to leave the club.  At first, I’m sure I was one of many to dismiss it all as typical transfer BS, but as the rumblings got louder, I got more worried.  (In retrospect, I’m not really sure why as its not like he was in stellar form prior to leaving).  He ended up signing with Chelsea and Liverpool was able to use the absurd amount of money they received to buy Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll.

Looking back, it was an awesome decision.  Torres never found his stride at Chelsea either, scoring a grand total of one goal and honestly, I’d rather have players that want to rock the red for LFC.   And Suarez?  Well, he is something else.  The Uruguayan didn’t score a lot of goals, but he certainly set up his fair share.  He was an excellent signing and will only become more dangerous for LFC.  Carroll is a bit more of a question mark.  He was hurt a good chunk of the spring, but he also has potential to be a big scoring threat.  They’re both young and talented, which is exactly what LFC needs to be successful in the future.

Anyways, getting back to the team, as they became more and more comfortable under Dalglish, you could see the positive changes.  There was hustle and fight and determination – all the things you should be seeing out of a top flight team.  Players like Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez stepped up to the plate big time and the passing game quickly became one of their strongest attributes.  By no means were the final five months of the season perfect, but there was drastic improvement and hope for the future and that’s really all you can ask for out of such a turbulent season.

Dalglish recently signed a three-year deal to stay on as manager, which is obviously great news for both players and fans.  Steven Gerrard will also return after missing the last three months of the season with injury.  There are younger players stepping into key roles like Lucas and Jay Spearing.  There should be some action on the transfer market this summer as well because let’s face it, we struggled with width all year and could definitely do with some strong wingers.

It really is an exciting time to be a Liverpool fan – a major turnaround from this time last year.  I’m already pumped for next season.  Is it August yet?

LFC decides: Dalglish is the man

12 May

After leading Liverpool back from the brink, Kenny Dalglish has been rewarded with a three-year deal at the club.  Since he took over in January, he had led the team from 12th place to the verge of clinching a spot in the Europa League (that would be fifth place, people).

While moving up the table is clearly fantastic, the real change with Dalglish has been in the attitude of the team.  He has instilled a sense of pride that was missing earlier in the season.  You can see the changes in the players every time you watch a match.  There’s more hustle, fight and determination.  People aren’t giving up on plays.  It seems like half the goals the team has scored lately are the result of staying strong throughout the entire run of play (here’s looking at you, Maxi).  Opponents aren’t having enough time to string passes together because they are constantly being harassed.  And speaking of passing, oh my, how Liverpool’s has improved.  The whole pass and move thing seems to be working quite well.

He has also done a great job of keeping a strong squad on the field while still dealing with a string of defensive injuries as well as the loss of Steven Gerrard.  Heck, at this point, it doesn’t even look like the team needs Gerrard out there (although with the way they have been playing, adding in a healthy Gerrard is kind of a scary thought).  I also like how he has given some of the young players a chance to play and is actually giving them significant time on the field.  Developing young players is key for the future and he recognizes that.

This was absolutely the right move for the team.  Dalglish has rejuvenated the squad and the fans and I, for one, am so incredibly excited about what next season could bring.  The team has a lot of talent returning and hopefully a couple smart summer transfers could vault the squad back into the top four.

More Barca-Real drama today

3 May

Barcelona will host Real Madrid in the second leg of their Champions League semifinal this afternoon.  The bad blood boiled over in the last meeting as there were dives, fouls and cheating out the wazoo.

Barcelona holds a 2-0 lead and has no real need to score any more goals today.  They will be perfectly content with 80% possession and no shots.  How exactly will Real score if they can’t hold onto the ball?  It will be even more difficult for Real without Pepe, who was vital to the disruption of the Barca midfield in the last couple matches.  Last week, Barca couldn’t get a breakthrough until after his red card.  Real will also be without the services of Sergio Ramos (yellow card accumulation) and Jose Mourinho (red card). Mourinho has already labeled this tie as ‘mission impossible’.  (Talk about a way to inspire your team.)

Tensions ran incredibly high in last week’s match and it resulted in an ugly, foul-filled affair.  Will these teams be able to move past that or will this game be even uglier as Real pushes for goals of its own?  A 2-0 hole is not the end of the world for Real, but they will have to find someone else to play the disruptive role that Pepe did if they want any chance of getting back into this clash. If no one can fill that role, it’s going to be a long day for the Copa del Rey champs and a second final in three years for Barcelona.

TV Schedule
Barcelona vs. Real Madrid – 2:30 p.m. ET/Fox Soccer Live