Liverpool

Liverpool are in a crisis?

They’re in unchartered territory, a place where they haven’t been for some time, but it can be argued that Liverpool are in very poor form. With last night’s 1-0 defeat to Burnley taken in to consideration too, a home defeat which was there first in the league since 2017. Plus the fact that The Reds haven’t scored for over 400 minutes, then off hand, you can say the Anfield side are in a major slump.

Defeats to Southampton and now Burnley, alongside draws against West Brom, Newcastle and Fulham suggests that all isn’t well at Liverpool. It’s well documented that Liverpool have a whole host of injury problems, with Virgil Van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Diogo Jota all on the treatment table to name just some.

Dutch centre-back and star man Van Dijk, is stepping up his recovery, but he won’t be able to play again this season most likely.

With those defeats and draws that Jurgen Klopp’s side have suffered, as strange as it may sound they haven’t been too bad. The game against Manchester United for example, The Reds pressed and probed, Thiago Alacantra was their one more orchestra.

The Spaniard, was truly pulling the strings and not one United player could get near him. As the game wore on however, Liverpool ran out of steam and it was Man United who had the better of the game.

This is partly due to confidence lacking, but also the fact that teams are trying to be more narrow when defending against Liverpool attacks, this seems to have been one way that’s thwarted Liverpool’s creativity. Another factor has been the poor form of Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian, largely criticised for not scoring enough, has been a key player for the Merseyside club, due to his unselfish work and how he brings others to play.

At the moment, he’s not even doing that I am afraid and other players are suffering as a result? But on the flip side the big man needs a rest! That’s evident for all to see.

The famed front three of Mohammed Salah, Sadio Mane and of course Firmino have been a massive part of all the good things for Liverpool in recent seasons. All three are struggling, hence the goal drought the 19-time domestic champions are going through. Jordan Henderson and Fabino, the midfielders who are the rock in the middle of the park for Liverpool, are having to fill in at the defence.

With this enforced position change, The Reds have been affected at a result. So to conclude my thoughts and findings of Liverpool’s current situation, I would say this. Yes, Liverpool are struggling and not scoring goals, but no they’re now not all of a sudden a terrible team. The Premier League title looks highly unlikely at this point, it’s returning to Anfield, but this has been such an unusual season.

Three teams have been top of the table in the past 24 hours, which only emphasises that point. This is just a bad patch of form that Liverpool are going through, all teams go through it, Manchester United went through theirs earlier in the season, and Chelsea too are in a slump in form, but we don’t talk about that. Liverpool ironically for all their defensive injuries, are struggling to score goals but haven’t conceded too many .

Form is temporary and class is permanent as they say. It will be tough for them to win this year’s title, but this Liverpool team like any other needs subtle changes and evolution, it’s what the great teams do. Liverpool are a great team. Don’t let this month allow you to forget that, it wasn’t too long ago that they won 7-0 against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Palace.

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.

Liverpool vs Manchester United preview

Tomorrow’s top of the table clash between Liverpool and Manchester United will be the first time in more than 20 years, that these two arch-rivals will be squaring off as first and second in the table.

The rivalry might have died in recent years it could be argued. With United top of the league and leading by three points, reigning champions Liverpool will want to and be eager to make up ground on their arch-rivals.

Win and The Reds are top, lose and Liverpool will be further behind. They won’t be out of the title race, especially since Man United will need to still play Man City, Tottenham and Leicester.

Trying to claw back a six-point deficit, although not impossible won’t be easy.

This Manchester United team, although not being at their sparkling best, they have been good enough to win several matches this year.

Merseyside club Liverpool have a very proud home record, and The Red Devils are unbeaten in 15 games away from home. The game between these two promises to be a classic.

Rashford and co coming up against a patched-up Liverpool defence, but Jurgen’s men have on the whole done well this term despite a depleted team sheet.

United’s defence, having conceded six against Tottenham earlier this season, have somewhat tightened up in recent weeks.

The return to form and fitness of Eric Bailly has been crucial to this renaissance. Ivorian Bailly, will be crucial to Manchester United’s hopes of getting a positive result from this top of the table clash at Anfield.

Liverpool centre back Joel Matip, who is close to full fitness, will be assessed before a decision is made to see if the former Schalke will feature .

As for the visitors United, Anthony Martial, Victor Lindelof and midfielder Nemanja Matic will be looking to prove their fitness.

As for my prediction, sorry to be nice and boring … I am going for a 1-1 draw. But what do you think? Let me know in the comments.

Sounding a bit like Liverpool of old?

Get excited about leading the Premier League in January, constantly bringing up past glories and saying this is our year …. No I am not talking about Liverpool. It might be hard to believe, but in fact I am talking about Manchester United.

The United players don’t do this of course, but the fans have and even the statisticians are too. Man United’s 1-0 win over Burnley, put The Red Devils three points clear at the top of the Premier League. It’s been their first time since 2013 and that was when a certain Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge that his has happened.

Cue, the over-reaction theatre …. They still need to play the champions at Anfield and games with Chelsea as well as Man City wait too. City, are resurgent it must be stated and in John Stones and Ruben Diaz, The Citizens arguably have the best defence in the league.

Sir Alex has been retired for seven years, but the narrative is always obsessed with him. He was a great man, a brilliant manager but please United fans give it a rest. You sound like a guy who is obsessed with his ex, who knows isn’t coming back and he full well knows but still wants to pine for her return.

United fans are craving for their former love, but Sir Alex is seeing other people and so should Man United fans too. I am not that old to fully relate (honest I am 34), but I get the impression that before this title win of last season, Liverpool fans would talk about Bill Shankly, even though he had long departed the Anfield dugout.

Liverpool have moved on to pastures new and have Jurgen Klopp at the helm. The future looks bright for The Merseysiders. I find it ironic, that what Manchester United fans criticised Liverpool fans of doing, this is what they’re doing themselves.

The, “this is our year brigade as I call them” seems to have moved to Old Trafford. What you work so hard to avoid, is what you sometimes end up becoming.

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

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.

The Red Devils turn good, to defeat The Villains

Goals from Anthony Martial and Bruno Fernandes, helped Manchester United battle to a 2-1 win against Aston Villa.

The Red Devil’s, who before the start of kick off, knew that if they beat The Villains, they would go joint top of the table with arch-rivals Liverpool, took the lead through under fire striker Anthony Martial.

If Man United thought that goal would make things easier for them on the night, then Aston Villa were about to prove that to not the case after Trarore levels for the visitors.

To ruin my prediction for this game, United would find a winner through Fernandes’ penalty.

The Portuguese star, made no mistake from the spot, after appearing to get fouled, a decision which didn’t please Midlands side Aston Villa and their boss Dean Smith.

Despite not being at their fluent best, United move level on points with league leaders Liverpool.

As for Villa, they stay sixth. This season, is only just getting warmed up!

Premier League Preview

With 2020, coming to an end, I Ayyaz Malik take a look at this round of fixtures as the Premier League gets towards the half way stage.

The match between Manchester United and Aston Villa, promises to be a good game for the neutral.

The Red Devil’s, on the whole have struggled at home, come against a Villa side that is competing towards the top of the table.

With the signings of Ross Barkley and Ollie Watkins, The Villains won’t be an easy game for United . Chelsea and Liverpool can verify that.

This game, I see it as a 1-1 draw, a better result for Aston Villa no doubt, but Dean Smith’s side are an opponent not to be underestimated.

Other games across the fixture list see Liverpool come up against Southampton. This game may seem a forgone conclusion, but due to Liverpool’s recent struggles, it’s anything but.

Having said that, I think Liverpool will edge this one 1-0 and return to winning ways in the process .

Last years title rivals to Liverpool Manchester City, square up to Chelsea, a team tipped to challenge.

In fact both City and The Blues were tipped to be serious title contenders, but it’s not quite panned out like that this year, despite Chelsea going on a 17 game unbeaten run.

Since then, Frank Lampard’s men have lost to Everton, Wolves and Arsenal. I don’t see them getting back to winning ways here.

My prediction, Manchester City 2-1 Chelsea.

The last game, I wanted to review was Tottenham, who were joint top just recently, up against a resurgent Leeds who have won their last two games quite comfortably with an aggregate scoreline of 6-0.

The Lillywhites Leeds, who have impressed since returning to the Premier League after a 16 year absence, will prove a stern test for Jose’s side. With this one, I see this one ending Tottenham 2-1 Leeds.

That’s your Premier League review. Have a good weekend!

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.

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.