Thursday, 14 February 2013

Liverpool v Swansea City, PL, Match Preview

Moving on, Rock on, Bring it on.

Last Saturday's dismantling of QPR at home in our 4-1 win went a long way to convincing most skeptics that City had indeed, not taken their "eye off the ball" by neglecting PL form in advance of the Capital One Cup Final upcoming on the 24th. It reinforced what ML had been saying pre-match, in as much as it was important we didn't devalue PL placement in advance of an upcoming glamorous occasion. He, and the team, were as good as his word.

That the Squad has spent this past week in a pre-booked Mid Season training break in Dubai should be viewed in the same way.

I've seen some mischievous Press comment that all 5 of the PL teams who are out in the Middle East this week could be construed as having taken their "occular organ off the leather spheroid" by somehow abandoning February's grey British skies for the blue and warmth of the Gulf.

Excuse my dubiety in relying more on ML and HJ's knowhow than the sometime jackals of the British Tabloid press (and its talkSHITE radio equivalent) in determining what's right for our Team and Club but I'd suggest that both we and the other four - Norwich, WHU, QPR and Reading - know what they're doing.

They'll all be back, of course, in sufficent and apposite time for the upcoming fixtures, and ours takes us once again to Anfield .

This rearranged PL fixture is slotted into this FA Cup weekend as a result of both we and the Scoucers being serendipidously available having both been knocked out of said Tourney. As it happens, for us at least, that may be no bad thing.

As far as we're concerned, it's surely more expedient that we've a top class game in the almost 2 week gap between QPR and the COC Bradford City game, potential injuries notwithstanding. The Reds, however, may view this as a game too far, given that following their 2-0 home defeat to WBA on Monday night, this Thursday they're engaged in an awkward trip to Zenit St Petersburg in the Europa League knockout fixture and then have another 3/4 day turnaround before Sunday's meeting against us.

In putting together this week's preview I think you'll understand that I've decided to stray away from the usual format that concentrates on individuals in detail and concentrate instead on the background to the game , taking in, hopefully, some of my perceptions of where both Clubs are.The contrasts are quite enlightening I feel.

Back in the summertime , when we'd lost yet another Manager to a bigger beast, we Swans were understandably nervous. After all, HJ and the Board had done the business on previous occasions but could they do it yet again? I think it's fair to say in retrospect that the answer is a resounding yes.

Moreover, it continued the evidence that each and every of the 5 previous Managerial appointments have improved us, and I include in that the much reviled Paulo Sousa, and I'll happily explain.

The Jury's still out on precisely when the Swansea City transformation began to happen.

I confess that I'm in Huw Jenkins' camp, who's voiced the opinion that the upward trajectory began with Kenny Jacket. Shorthand suggests that he first got us up a Division, and whilst Roberto Martinez undoubtedly was the first to introduce the abiding Swansea Style, post his departure Sousa made us more defensively resilient, and despite all the brickbats took us higher than ever before (in PL era terms).

Consequently , Brendan Rodgers was the Manager who acually presided over our ultimate ascent, and whilst his poaching by Liverpool FC initially seemed limiting for us, there's a strong argument to be made that ML's appointment means that nowadays BR is more limiting for them. Think on this.

How many of us Swans would nowadays argue that we're a better team than we were last year? Most of us, I'd suggest.

How many Liverpudlians would argue that they are a better team this year than under Kenny Dalgliesh last year ? A huge percentage fewer than we Swans I'm certain.

You've only to read various Liverpool FC fansites (The Anfield Wrap, RAWK  ) etc., to see that there's a large minority who are not yet convinced that his necessarily scary attempt at transforming the Liverpool "Brand" is still, frustratingly, on a knife-edge.

Don't forget that last year they won the Cup that we're favourites to win in 2 weeks time and that they also lost in the final of the FA Cup whilst finishing 8th in the PL. For all that, KD was dismissed and BR poached from us. And are they better? Hugely, and entertainingly (for me at least) debatable.

The most notable features of Liverpool this year seem to me to be these............

1) Pattern. They play nowadays as he (BR) used to set us up in formation terms, ie a 4-2-3-1, but there are many caveats. For example, our wingers under ML play narrower and are much more in the game, allowing the FB's greater license. There are many more, often subtle, differences cf.............license to shoot, tempo, fewer "keep-ball" passes more penetration etc., for us.

2) Individuals. Reina in goal looks diminished, making more errors than previously. The FB's are never seemingly set solid - Glen Johnson plays both L and R, Enrique veers from a free transfer to a key member. At CB, Agger and Skrtel have suffered an apalling lapse of form, leading to the almost retired Jamie Carragher being recalled.  And that's just at the back.

3) Creativity. After his £15m transfer from us, Joey Allen and Steven Gerrard were originally the 2 defensive MF'ers, but Lucas Leiva's return has forced Joe out of the team, and whilst he offers solidity he's knocked the tempo of pass. Plus, there's a large portion of their following who are yet to be convinced by young Joe.The advanced 3 seem never to be settled. After giving up on Nuri Sahin (I'd have him but Dortmund called :) ) and young Suso there is constant flux.

4) Resources.  Limited (early season) options up front. Whilst the elusive and effective Luis Suarez is world class, to go into the season with just him and Fabio Borini as their only options was naive in the extreme. Borini's long term injury (since recovered) made it worse, but even now with him back and the exciting Danny Sturridge recruited in the Window available, their crowds' dislike of Fabio is worrying, and Sturridge has to do more than play well in a couple of games to convince.

Link all of the above to the lingering doubt over Jordan Henderson, the ongoing frustration over Stewart Downing, the bizarre JonJo Shelvey debate (is he good, or a wally?), the over use of a kid - Raheem Sterling with its concommitant over-hype, the over use of Gerrard (he's played every PL minute), and you can see this is a Club and Team still in a far from settled state.

With a Club as famous and revered as this there are a large number of issues still and we shouldn't be dismissive of the attendant daily pressures. This is a Club that arguably deserves to be called, still, that ubiquitous term in football commentariat a "top-4 side". From recent years it obviously isn't, and whilst we're currently ahead of them in the table, there are several other teams who could claim to be on the same (footballing at least ) level as well.

And here's what I'd suggest is the ultimate bloody nose - so far, this season, Liverpool, who sit 9th, have not beaten a single club who are above them in the table. Ouch, and double  bloody ouch.

So, let's look to us. What will our line up be given that we've got a rather important Cup Final the following week? Well, here goes, see what you think.

In goal we can confidently expect Michel Vorm, our no1, as Gerhard Tremmel has done all of the COC games and can be sure of playing next Sunday.

At FB I think there's a place for playing Dwight Tiendalli for either Rangel or Ben Davies, but I feel it'll be for Rangel since Davies is a young tyro who is taking everything in his stride.

At CB I expect to see Kyle Bartley partner Garry Monk in an audition of who partners Ash Williams next week. I've assumed Chico, unfortunately, will be unfit due to his ankle injury but if he's not then it's him 'n Ash next week.

MF is the hardest area to predict. Given that our MF 3 next week ought to be LB, JdG and Ki, I'd protect Leon by sitting him down and playing Kemy plus Ki and JdG.

Michu should wrapped in cotton wool and brought out next Friday. Of the wingers, Pablo is the one to sit first and Routledge second, so Nathan Dyer and Roland Lamah must play wide with the line led by Itay Schecter (probably) or Luke Moore (possibly).

My rationale is that whilst I realise the PL is the preference, on 37pts we're all but secure and to secure a possible European adventure by winning the COC neccessitates a somewhat protective line up this week. What do you think? After all, what do I know - certainly no more than you.

We can go to Anfield confident in the memory of defeating them there on our way to Wembley in this year's COC run. Who says we can't do it again ? Not me.

Onward, Swansea City.

For all us pedants (myself included ) here's the full Liverpool Squad...................

1. Jones, 2. Johnson, 3. Enrique, 5. Agger, 7. Suarez, 8. Gerrard, 10. Coutinho, 11. Assaidi, 14. Henderson, 15. Sturridge, 16. Coates, 19. Downing, 21. Lucas, 22. D Wilson, 23. Carragher, 24. Allen, 25. Reina, 29. Borini, 30. Suso, 31. Sterling, 33. Shelvey, 34. Kelly, 35. Coady, 36. Yesil, 37. Skrtel, 38. Flanagan, 42. Gulacsi, 43. McLaughlin, 45. Sama, 47. Wisdom, 48. Sinclair, 49. Robinson, 50. Morgan, 52. Ward

January additions....

Most of us know and have seen Daniel Sturridge, the England forward having spent a frustrating couple of years at Chelsea after his move from Man City. This, to quote BR, is probably his "last chance at a big club" but he's started well and is an outstanding forward talent.

Their other main buy was Phillipe Coutinho, a terrifically gifted if slight MF'er bought from Inter. The next couple of years in this unforgiving league will determine whether this skillful and exciting ballplayer can survive amongst the cutlasses.

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