football

Liverpool vs Manchester United, post match review

Title rivals Liverpool and Manchester United, played out an inevitable draw, in a result that although didn’t damage The Reds’ title defence, it surely didn’t help it. Liverpool who before kick off, were three points behind current league leaders Man United, went into this one in woeful form.

I say that, due to the high standards the Anfield club have set themselves in the past two seasons in particular. It’s well documented, that Liverpool have had some defensive issues to contend with, but the issues have been up the pitch.

Famed front three, Mohammed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane failed to score for the third game in a row. Jurgen Klopp’s men haven’t gone on such a run since 2005, that season was the season of the 2005 Champions League win.

With summer signing Diogo Jotta, not back until February, what seemed a team that was indestructible is arguably on the course of self destruct? Such an accusation is harsh, especially since current leaders Manchester United have hardly been flawless themselves.

A 6-1 mauling at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur at the start of the season isn’t results of champions elect, but this season has been a strange one. Anyone has beaten anyone. The gap is three points, a Man City arguably would have taken full advantage in this game, as hosts Liverpool huffed and puffed but never looked like scoring.

Home debutant, Thiago was superb. The Spaniard, has added an edge to what seemed to be an already complete Liverpool midfield. Former Bayern Munich man Thiago, was time and time again dictating the pace and tempo of the game. Despite the 29-year old’s best efforts, he couldn’t help his team be composed in the final third.

The best chance Liverpool did half came from Thiago, who forced Man United keeper David DeGea into a smart stop. Having to play with stand-in centre backs Jordan Henderson and Fabino, United did have two good chances to score the opening goal.

Bruno Fernandes who was on the whole quiet in this one, had a shot well saved by Alison, who superbly saved a Paul Pogba effort to ensure the score remained 0-0. Two points dropped arguably for Man United, but if they were told they would get a point at the start of the game, The Red Devils surely would have taken it.

Stamford Bridge, the grave yard for strikers?

Torres, Sturridge and Werner? What do these names have in common? Football fans, these are some of the strikers who have joined West London club Chelsea and unfortunately for them have failed. All three are very talented strikers, but it begs the question why have these three struggled whilst playing for The Blues?

I have a theory, and with Daniel Sturridge and Timo Werner my theory and beliefs are supported. Former Liverpool forward Sturridge was played out of position as is Werner currently. In the case of Germany forward Werner, he has played some games down the middle, but he needs a consistent run up top.

The same could have been said with Sturridge. Former Man City academy starlet Daniel Sturridge did impress whilst on loan with Bolton and playing for Liverpool.

The former England striker in his time at Anfield, was part of the legendary strike force that was labelled SAS, which came with in a whisker of winning the league title in the 2013 Premier League season.

This theory that I have although maybe supported with Werner and Sturridge, can’t be said with Fernando Torres. World cup winning Torres, before he made his then British transfer record £50 million to West London, was one of the most feared strikers on the planet. Sadly for El Nino, injuries ended up curtailing a career that had promised so much.

Those injuries, dented the confidence of the Spaniard and what promised to be a good transfer never worked out that way. Torres was able to resurrect his career of sorts at boyhood club Atletico Madrid, but sadly he was never the same.

With Werner, he is of course still in West London and he has time to break what seems to be a curse that strikers have when they go there. Frank please, play him where he needs to be up top!

Didier Drogba in recent times has been in my humble opinion, the sole striker who has succeeded at Chelsea.

The fact that Frank Lampard ( a midfielder and a world class one at that) is the clubs all-time leading scorer, maybe proves my point?

But maybe the role of the striker isn’t like what it used to be?

Kezman, Crespo and Shevchenko are other players I thought of (who have struggled at Stamford Bridge) as I write this. Am I on to something here? Does my argument have substance to it? Let me know in the comments.

FA Cup fourth and fifth round draw

Manchester United and Liverpool face each other in what is the tie of the fourth round. Due to the coronavirus, both the fourth and fifth round draw were done on the same day.

The Red Devil’s who were last years semi-finalists face Liverpool, who of course won the Premier League last season after a 30 year wait. These two Premier league giants, are due to face other in the league this month, and this extra game between the two sides, has all the ingredients to be a classic.

In some other ties of note, third round giant killers Crawley are rewarded with an away game to Championship high-flyers Bournemouth. Fellow giant killers Chorley face Premier League Wolves, and if the Lancashire side beat Wanderers, then holders Arsenal could be awaiting in round five.

The remaining minnow left in the draw (Stockport, at time of writing), could face the mouth watering prospect of facing United in an alternate Manchester Derby match up.

Here is the full draw of the FA Cup fourth and fifth round;

FA Cup fourth-round draw

Cheltenham Town v Manchester City

Bournemouth v Crawley Town

Swansea City v Nottingham Forest

Manchester United v Liverpool

Southampton/Shrewsbury v Arsenal

Barnsley v Norwich

Chorley v Wolves

Millwall v Bristol City

Brighton v Blackpool

Wycombe v Tottenham

Fulham v Burnley

Sheffield United v Plymouth

Chelsea v Luton

Stockport/West Ham v Doncaster

Brentford v Leicester

Everton v Sheffield Wednesday

FA Cup fifth-round draw

Fulham/Burnley v Bournemouth/Crawley Town

Manchester United/Liverpool v Stockport/West Ham or Doncaster

Sheffield United/Plymouth v Millwall/Bristol City

Chorley/Wolves v Southampton/Shrewsbury or Arsenal

Barnsley/Norwich v Chelsea/Luton Town

Everton/Sheffield Wednesday v Wycombe/Tottenham

Swansea City/Nottingham Forest v Cheltenham Town/Manchester City

Brentford/Leicester v Brighton/Blackpool

Tottenham, are through to final after Brentford win

Tottenham Hotspur booked their place in the final of the Carabao Cup after a 2-0 win over Brentford. The West London side, did beat Premier League side Newcastle 1-0 in the last round to get here.

With that in mind, it was evident that The Bees would be no pushover in this game. Brentford have had to rebuild after the sales of Said Benrahma and star forward Ollie Watkins.

To their credit after an arguably slow start, are competing within the higher reaches of the Championship again.

Key to this, has been Ivan Toney, the 26-year old former Newcastle and Peterborough striker has scored and impressive 16 goals this term.

The homeside Tottenham, knew that if they were to progress in this one, they will need to keep Toney quite and star forwards Harry Kane and Son Heung Min will need to perform.

Perform they did. Despite Brentford having, bright moments in this game, Spurs through goals by Mohammed Sissoko and Son, are through to the final, at the expense of the visitors Brentford, who were in their first competitive semi-final in their history.

A red card for Brentford’s Josh Da Silva, effectively ended any chance that the visitors had in progressing to the final.

For Tottenham, this is their chance to get their hands in silver for the first time since 2008, when they won this competition by beating Chelsea 2-1 that day.

Despite losing this semi-final, Brentford exit this tournament, with their heads held high.

They have clearly shown by their performances this year in the Championship and Carabao Cup, they are a very capable team and are a match for any one.

Come May, they will be back in the promotion race for sure.

This Tottenham team, have gone some way to show that they’re now ready to move to the next level. Jose’s back, Manchester City or Manchester United … you’re next are you ready?

Unpopular opinion, Liverpool bottle it?

Hello and good evening, I hope you’re all well and looking after yourselves. Thank you for your readership, it’s appreciated for sure. I have written a few pieces in what I call the unpopular opinion series.

The first piece was about Leeds and their chances of staying in the Premier League here it is;. https://ayyazmalik.com/2020/12/24/unpopular-opinion-why-leeds-will-get-relegated/

And Frank Lampard maybe getting the sack? That can be viewed here; https://ayyazmalik.com/2021/01/03/lampard-for-the-sack/

In this article, after Liverpool’s defeat tonight against Southampton, I want to discuss the possibility of The Reds, last year’s Premier League winners, winning the league this year.

Jurgen Klopp’s men after impressing for large parts of the season last year to win the league after a 30-year wait, just have quite been themselves of late.

I am not mentioning the 7-2 defeat by Aston Villa, that was earlier in the season, I am talking about the last month.

Draws against Fulham West Brom and now this defeat to The Saints is showing signs that the Merseysiders are a club struggling compared to their high standards.

This maybe a tad harsh, as during this hectic period The Anfield side have beat Crystal Palace 7-0 at Selhurst Park, and ground out a 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield, who have impressed this year.

But, the injuries to Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez, just might be starting to affect Jurgen’s men.

In tonights game, I argue that The Reds lacked the dynamism of Fabinho and the engine of captain Jordan Henderson in the middle of the park. Both were deployed as centre backs, due to the chronic shortage at the back for Liverpool.

Avid readers of my blog, would remember my piece where I was quite critical of Liverpool’s spending.

To their credit Thiago, and Diogo Jota were signed after that article was published, so I will go on record saying I need to apologise for that. That article can be found here; https://ayyazmalik.com/2020/06/26/dear-jurgen-a-letter-from-the-sports-buff/

What I want to stick by, is that Liverpool won’t win this year’s Premier League. The 19 time domestic League title winners, do arguably have the best squad in the country.

Manchester City won the Premier League title back to back, but The Citizens were first team to do this since Manchester United do so, when they had their legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson in charge.

My thinking is, that as good as this Liverpool team has been, their lack of defensive cover will prove costly. Am I wrong? Let me know in the comments.

Rangers, within Range of title after Old Firm win

Rangers, took a massive step towards winning this year’s Scottish Premier League, with a battling 1-0 win over arch-rivals Celtic, which opens up a 19 point lead at the top of the Scottish Premier League (all be I having played three games more).

The Gers have been in sensational form this year, domestically and in Europe.

In fact the 2-0 defeat in quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup against St Mirren, has been the sole blemish in what has been a relentless season of excellence.

Steven Gerrard’s side coming into this game, have conceded just five goals in 22 games this season.

Not to downplay the impact the Gers have had at the other end of the table (56 goals scored before Celtic game) , but in a game like Saturday’s early game, their water-tight defence proved crucial here.

It was more to the performance of goalkeeper Alan McGregor, who made several world class saves, most notably the save from Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths, whose effort he tipped on the post.

The Hoops, had the better of the first half, and McGregor was called upon many times in the first half, as The Bhoys knowing that they needed to win this game, started the game the better.

Rangers, who have stormed to the top of the table, playing scintillating football along the way, have struggled in recent games, but unlike games of previous seasons, have been able to grind out results.

Saturday’s game against Celtic was a fitting example of that. This win for Rangers, sees the Ibrox outfit open up what appears to be a 19 point unassailable lead and arguably looks to have stopped their arch rivals winning their 10th domestic title in a row.

Rangers are quite the party poopers.

The retractions

Hello and good afternoon sports fans, my name is Ayyaz Malik aka The Sports Buff. I am very grateful to say that I am a sports journo of six years and now a sports broadcaster of two years.

Now, just like with the more experienced journo’s, I made two predictions, which were arguably a bit bold.

The first prediction, I said, even on national TV too, that due to Liverpool defender Virgil Van Dijk’s injury, which is ultimately a season ending one, would cost Liverpool the title and they would struggle badly, especially after the 7-2 mauling by Aston Villa.

Now, of course the season isn’t over, but I genuinely feel the need to say, “fair play lads, I was wrong”. Joel Matip, Fabinho and Nico Williams have been the players to fill the centre back berth.

Joe Gomez, would have been a definite starter, but he too is on the treatment table. What lead me to this thinking was comparisons of last season.

Last year, Manchester City came into the season as defending champions, but in the early part of the season, disaster struck as Aymerick Laporte was injured and miss a huge bulk of the season as a result.

So seeing those comparisons, I came to what seemed like the natural conclusion that Liverpool would struggle without their Dutch centre back.

The Reds however, have proved us wrong. The season is still young, but if this blog gets dug up, I will take the loss on this one. The second thing, I will have to retract and I am happy to do so, is Leeds United and their stay in the Premier League.

Now, I wrote a piece arguing that Leeds could go down. Now I don’t 100% believe this, but after the defeat against Manchester United, I put this out there, that Leeds are too open with this expansive style that they play.

I even said that they might go down, but after two wins, scoring six goals and conceding zero in the process, the Lillywhites have earned more points than Sheffield United did last season, and everyone really applauded The Blades and rightly so. Sometimes in life, it’s necessary to eat humble pie, now I think is one of those times.

Football’s silly season

It is the season to be jolly they say. For the people of the football community it can be anything but.

For footballers, they will feel the strain no doubt, of the sheer amount of games in this very short period.

That might be tough on players, but for managers they have a different stress to deal with, the stress of the mind potentially and if they’re still going to be a job come spring.

Football, for all its unpredictably, predictably has a period in the football calendar where there seems to be a mass exodus of managers.

This changes season by season. This seasons exodus of managers has arguably already started.

First it was now ex West Brom manager Slaven Billic who was sacked, despite his side earning a battling 1-1 draw against Manchester City a day or two before.

The other casualties have been Sheffield Wednesday parting company with former manager Tony Pulis.

Former Stoke manager was given just 13 games. The Welshman, was relieved of his duties with the Yorkshire second bottom.

Some may say this is justified, but was it really? Remember The Owls were given a point deduction due to financial troubles, so context need surely!

Cross city rivals Sheffield United, are struggling at the foot of the Premier League table. I really hope for the love of God, the owners don’t give him the chop, that would be one of the worst decisions ever.

In the case of Sheffield Wednesday, who could they have got who’s better than Pulis? There’s not many and the former Palace manager has never been relegated in his proud managerial career.

Many fans no doubt, will argue if he keeps The Baggies up, it was worth it.

West Brom, who I mentioned earlier, have arguably made a safe appointment in Sam Allardyce, but football principals will be lost.

The last managerial name that I wanted to mention was now former PSG manager Thomas Tuchel.

Former Dortmund man Tuchel, was sacked despite last year winning Ligue 1 and getting all the way to the final in last years Champions League.

Former Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino, is tipped to take the reigns at the Parc De Princes.

After these Managerial changes, I would hope there would be no more, but this is the world of football management. I am not holding my breath

Midweek football round up

Defending champions Liverpool opened up a three point lead at the top of the table, but were frustrated by a dogged Newcastle side who earned a 0-0 draw.

This fixture was a far cry from the legendary matches up between these two sides which always seemed to produce thrilling finales.

Visitors Liverpool, were making most of the running and had the better of the game, but weren’t able to leave St James’ Park with the crucial three points, they so dearly craved.

As a consequence of this result, arch-rivals Manchester United could join The Reds at the top of the Premier League summit (if they win their game in hand), after they held their side of the bargain, all be it with a last gasp winner by Marcus Rashford against Wolves, the night before.

That win for The Red Devils, was just their second at Old Trafford this season, but more importantly potentially helps them go joint top with Jurgen Klopp’s men, should they win their game in hand.

It’s been a very strange season, with many (including myself) at one point or another criticising United this term.

Whether you’re enthused by this United team or not, it’s been a very consistent team of late, especially away from home.

From second place United (30 points) to ninth places Southampton (26 points) is an example of just how competitive this season’s Premier League has been.

That draw for champions Liverpool, is their second successive draw, but at the moment not too much damage has been done, as they’re still top of the table.

Elsewhere Leeds, achieved the most emphatic win of the week, with a 5-0 win over West Brom.

Manchester City vs Everton and Tottenham vs Fulham, were both called due to covid concerns. Saints manager Ralph Hasenhuttl, who had family members, with symptoms, ended up self isolating.

We wish all those affected with covid, a speedy recovery.