30 April 2006

The week that was

Like I said, a lot of stuff's been going on in Liverpool-land lately, and a lot of it's been really important, too. (Other stuff, not directly relating to Liverpool, has been going on, too. To that I say -- 1) shut up, Chelsea, 2) please get better, Wayne Rooney, and 3) I'm sorry I jinxed you, Mr. Scolari.) Herewith, a quick review:

1. The FA Cup semi. Dude. How awesome was that? I know our overall record against Chelski isn't that great, but we sure seem to win the ones that count. It was so good to see how completely we dominated in the first hour. Once they pulled one back, it became more a matter of holding on and praying, but for once our luck held out. (That Joe Cole miss? That was karma for Robben getting Reina sent off the last time we met.) Garcia frustrates me sometimes with his inconsistency, but he does have the knack of scoring goals when he needs to. They aren't exactly the goals you'd expect him to score, but I'm not complaining. We were helped out a lot by Mourinho's completely insane team selection -- dude, all your wingers are suddenly crap? Uh-huh -- but I think we did pretty well playing our advantage. I don't know what made Chelski think they could take on our midfield, but we've denied them the double, and it makes me happy. I don't want to take West Ham for granted, but I'm so happy we're in the final.

2. The PFA player of the year, Steven Gerrard. This really surprised me, but I completely think it was deserved. He's now on 21 goals for the season and hasn't really been out of form all season. There's also the little matter of him pretty much grabbing the team and throwing them back into the Champions League final last year. I've said a lot of this before, but I was really expecting one of the Chelsea players to win, just because they've been so dominant in the league. For once I was pleasantly surprised. (Also, the way he keeps carrying the trophy around with him continues to bring me joy.)

3. Liverpool/West Ham. I watched this, but I can't say it was a very thrilling game, with neither team fielding the side they're going to play in the FA Cup final. It was good to see Cisse finally remember what he's there for -- I'm actually liking him out on the wings, and I guess it'll do until we can buy some real wingers over the summer. It's a testament to the strength of the side that our B-team, pretty much, can still play that well. (Though, Garcia? What the hell was that? I agree it was a harsh red, but an elbow to the back? You were on for all of a minute. No reason.)

4. Liverpool/Villa. This wasn't that great of a game, either, but man. How about that second Gerrard goal? I'm not a huge fan of our tendency to step off the gas once we've got a goal -- it almost cost us against Chelski, and it could've cost us here, too. I understand the virtues of defending a lead, but it's not very interesting play, and when that lead is only a goal, it's not that smart, either. If any team should know about comebacks, it's us, so I'd think we'd be a bit more wary of getting complacent once we lead. We're really better at counterattacking, which is somewhat defensive by nature, but taken too far, that's more than a little dangerous. If Villa had been able to finish anything, they could easily have been ahead. I know we only have one league game left, but that's something Liverpool could stand to work on for next season.

5. Finally, to the person who found me by searching for "I love Xabi Alonso"? So do I. However, I have nothing further to offer you. Sorry.

27 April 2006

More England drama

Yes, I know. Big things have been happening in Liverpool-land. (Which is, I suppose, just Liverpool.) However, finals have consumed my brain, and while the end is in sight, it's over a week away. So rest assured that there will be plenty of gloating over our FA Cup semi win, and before the final. Just not right now.

No, this post is about the new England manager -- looks like they're going with Scolari. Maybe it's because I'm not English, but I've never really gotten the gigantic shout for an English manager for the national team. Hiddink's taken three different countries to the World Cup, and he's pretty clearly not South Korean or Australian. Sven hasn't yet been able to get England past the quarters in any given tournament, but that's not really a function of him being foreign, is it? There were plenty of unsuccessful England managers before him, and they were all English. Considering the strongest English candidates were Alan Curbishley, Steve McClaren, and (god help us) Big Sam Allardyce, I think I'd go with the guy who, you know, has actually won the World Cup.

So. Like I said, Scolari's it, and predictably, English coaches are whining. My favorite quote there? David Gold says: "No matter how brilliant a coach someone from abroad may be, it is a betrayal of Englishmen and England fans." On the side, there's one of those instant polls, presumably filled out by mostly England fans.

Question: Is Luiz Felipe Scolari the right choice as England manager?
Answer: Yes -- 63%; No -- 37%

Oh, the irony.

22 April 2006

Cisse, tinies, and some links

I keep asking Guardian Football to marry me. No response yet. Y'all know I'm far from a Cisse fan, but even if I were, that might be the most hilarious thing I've read on the Guardian for years. I don't think he's long for Liverpool, and I can't really feel sorry about that -- the drama-to-goals ratio was just not working in his favor. I do have to say, though, that I'll probably end up missing my informal Cisse Hair Watch. Unless Crouch suddenly goes wild, we're not likely to see the likes of that again soon.

I can't talk about the FA Cup semi right now; I'm really just too nervous. Which is silly, because I have, like, finals to worry about. But no, this is what I choose to obssess over. (I'm pleasantly surprised that I got the buildup wrong here, though. It's nice to see Rafa getting a little bit bitchy every once in a while.) Since I can't talk about the Cup semi, I'll talk about the Youth Cup final instead. All I managed to catch of this was the celebrations after, and wow. Are these the cutest kids ever, or what? I'm not sure how screaming the intro to "Ring of Fire" became Liverpool's new celebration, but it started with the Champions League final, as far as I can tell. Then the youth team did it with this trophy, and y'all, I almost cried. This may be because I am incredibly girly sometimes, or . . . yeah, really that's about it. They're just so tiny and happy, and really playing because they love the game. Wonderful.

I keep meaning to mention my new links, and then completely forgetting. So here we go. Footie Fool has a lot of good analysis and commentary, so much so that I can forgive him for liking Arsenal over Liverpool. It's Up For Grabs Now is one of the blogs that I read way before I started my own, and it's always entertaining. Finally, EPL Talk called me "spunky." Hee. Thanks to all of you -- it makes my day every time.

15 April 2006

Ruination day, and the sky was red

I don't feel at all qualified to talk about Hillsborough -- I was not quite six when it happened. I've only been a Liverpool fan since 2002, and I've never seen a live game that wasn't held in an all-seater stadium. Even with that, though, I still cry when I read about it. It's hard for me to imagine how different things were back then, just seventeen years ago. I can't imagine what I would feel like having lost someone. It was such a completely senseless tragedy, and preventable in so many ways.

I don't have the words to talk about this, so some links instead:
LFC video tribute.
Alan Hansen.
John Barnes.

The Hillsborough 96. You'll never walk alone.

12 April 2006

Meaningless friendlies and (meaningless?) awards

First of all, here are my pictures from US/Jamaica. The game was a lot of fun, and the atmosphere was better than I expected it to be; we were right next to the US "ultras." (Don't know what you'd call them for the USMNT, so I'm just going with that.) Overall, it seemed like a meaningless friendly -- neither team was really going full-out for the win, so for most of the game, the US seemed content with a draw. Even with that, though, the US really should've won. I don't know how they're planning to handle Ghana or Italy when they can't kill off Jamaica. I don't want to get too deep into the analysis, but two things would really help them.

1. Everyone needs to be a little more selfish. There were several times when a US player would be bearing straight down on goal with a clear shot. What would he do? Pass it out wide. Every single time, it seemed, and then they'd shoot across the face of goal, or over the bar, or something. I understand wanting to help out your teammates, but sometimes you have to take the shot yourself.

2. If you're going to go for the near post corners, boys? It helps to have someone at the near post. Just a suggestion.


In other news, the PFA player of the year nominations came out today. Not surprisingly, I think Steven Gerrard should get it, but I think there are good arguments for most of the other candidates. It all really does come down to how you define success. Since all the nominees are from the Big Four teams, they're obviously not looking at success as staying up when everyone thought you were screwed (exhibit A: Plucky Little Wigan).

If success is continuing undeserved dominance, then someone from Chelski should win it, and I'd be least unhappy with Joe Cole getting it, since he has shown a lot of improvement, while John Terry and Frank Lampard have both gone off form somewhat. Chelsea's still winning everything, but a lot of the shine's gone off their success, and they're catching a lot of flack for their ugly play and diving tendencies. Terry, who scores a lot for a defender, has been solid, but not spectacular. I can name several other defenders who do just as well as him. (Also, he won last year, and I don't like repeats.) Lampard's lost the plot recently, and I'm not the only one who's noticed. Does anyone remember the last time he scored from open play? Cole's been good, but inconsistent; he's finally answered the left midfielder problem for England, though, and I have to like him a little bit for that.

If success is just individually having a good season, it's Rooney. I don't like that, though, especially since he's been a bit of a punk. He's apparently the favorite to win, and it'd be really hard to argue that he hasn't had an outstanding season. United have managed to turn their season around, and they're finally making a serious challenge to Chelsea for the title. I actually wouldn't mind him getting this, but I'd prefer that he get the Young Player award.

If success is getting furthest in the CL, then yeah, it should be Henry. He's top scorer right now, so it'd be hard to say he didn't deserve it on that basis. Somehow, though, I feel like he hasn't had that great of a season. Probably because it's been overshadowed to a large extent by 1) his will-he-stay-or-will-he-go drama, and 2) the rise of the young Arsenal players, especially Fabregas. Additionally, I am petty and don't want him to win it three times in four years. That's not really a reason, but even taking that out, I don't think he's the best thing about Arsenal this season by a long shot.

But if you define success as team improvement, then Steven should clearly get it. All Liverpool have really lacked this season is striking. They're worlds better than they were this time last season, what with being solidly in third, and maybe in position to challenge for second. Just compare that to last season, when they were hanging on to fifth and almost forty points behind Chelsea. There's no way a lot of that isn't down to Steven. Even though the rest of the team has stepped up a lot (and Rafa's bought well in some key areas), I still think Steven's absolutely essential to Liverpool. He's almost certain to get 20 goals this season, which is just ridiculous for a midfielder, and he can play almost anywhere on the pitch and completely controls midfield. He keeps growing into the captain role, and barring the odd moments of insanity, he's a lot more solid both as a player and a leader than last season. Liverpool seem to really be gelling under Rafa, and Steven's clearly a key part of that. I can imagine Man U without Rooney, Chelsea without Cole, or Arsenal without Henry. I can't imagine Liverpool without Steven. (Also, Footie Girl just reminded me of the little matter of the Champions League. Fifth time's the charm, boys.)

10 April 2006

CL quarters roundup

Okay, Blogger, I guess I didn't really want to upload a picture anyway. Gah. Will deal with that later, when it's less a Monday after I got no sleep. So what I opened this window to talk about was the Champions League quarterfinals. My prediction ratio has gotten progressively worse -- five of eight for the round of 16, two of four now. Ick. However, this time I was happy to be wrong in both cases, so it's good.

Tuesday's matches:
Milan/Lyon -- So apparently I was wrong, and Lyon aren't going to win it all. I can't really say that Milan deserved this win, though; Inzaghi's great at poaching goals, but the run of play in the first half was definitely in favor of Lyon. They just lost their concentration for the last few minutes, which is something you can't really afford to do when you're playing a team with Shevchenko on it. Overall, though, this was a really good game, and I'm glad I caught it live. Milan seem to have learned something about dramatic comebacks from playing Liverpool last season; they may have left Dida traumatized for life, though, since he was lucky not to ship more goals than he did. Only poor finishing on the part of Lyon's strikers prevented this from being 3-1 to them. I was kinda cheering for Lyon here, just because I don't like to be proved wrong, but I'm just as happy for Milan to go through. Maybe happier, actually. As much as I get amusement from Lyon having a player who goes by "Fred," I get a lot more joy out of watching Sheva and Kaka run around and jump on each other. (What? I'm not made of stone here, people.)

Villarreal/Inter -- Inter should have won this, I agree. However, I don't think attacking the players at the airport will make them want to do better, guys. ESPN didn't have this live, so I didn't see any of it -- I just kept a close eye on the Gamecast, and prayed for the away goals rule to work its magic. I'm not a huge Villarreal fan, but I was really hoping that all three Italian teams wouldn't make it through, and they obliged me. It's nothing really specific against Inter; I just can't seem to care about most Italian teams, and Inter seem like the archetypal Italian side to me. Too defensive by half. Besides, it's always fun when the underdogs pull off a surprise. Having two underdogs (these guys and Arsenal) make it to the semis is sort of an embarrassment of riches, but I am really not complaining. I think Villarreal are out in the next round, but I've been saying that for a while now, and they've shown surprising resilience.

Wednesday's matches:
Barca/Benfica -- And finally, normal service is resumed. Not that I don't like Benfica . . . oh, wait. I totally don't like Benfica. Who knocks the reigning champions out? Lame. I was really surprised when the first leg of this ended scoreless, but Barca seem to have found their footing in this second leg, and Benfica could only hold out so long against two of the three best players in the world. (I've somehow developed a bizarre affection for Ronaldinho. It's maybe because of the Nike ads, but it was developing before that. I can't even explain it, but I'm worried about myself.) This is another one ESPN didn't oblige me by showing, so I don't have a lot to say about it, except that I'm glad that Benfica aren't going any further. They didn't deserve to go as far as they did. Not that I'm bitter. Barcelona are completely the favorites now, but I'm definitely not discounting the winner of the other semi.

Arsenal/Juventus -- I'm especially not discounting the winner of the other semi if it's Arsenal. I'm really surprised by how completely Juve did not show up to these games. After the first leg, they had a battle to make it through, but it was definitely doable. Not if you don't score, though, and they just couldn't get it done. Lehmann had some decent saves, but on the whole, Arsenal were just not tested that much. They pretty much conceded the midfield battle early on. Arsenal didn't try incredibly hard to score on the second leg; there were some good shots, and Henry (or maybe Fabregas) went on a great run at the end that could've easily been a goal. (I realize Henry and Fabregas look nothing alike, but it's been a few days since I watched the match, and studying for Con Law has taken up that room in my brain.) Arsenal just had to hold on to their lead from the first leg, and Juve never really looked like scoring, especially not after they lost Nedved. (A note on that: dear ESPN commentators, please decide if it's Nyed-ved or Ned-vyed. Stick with one.) This wasn't quite as thrilling as the Milan/Lyon game, or the first leg of this tie, but I was really happy to see Le Arse make it through.

So now I'm saying the final will be Arsenal and Barcelona. And I'm picking Arsenal to win it all. They're totally the new Liverpool.

09 April 2006

I'm not dead.

Steven, darling? You may be a lover, but you ain't no dancer.

CL quarters recap later. Also, US/Jamaica is Tuesday, so hopefully I can get my new and shiny camera phone to work enough to get some pictures. (Also, I will deny ever having said this, but yay Man U! Anyone who puts a little pressure on Chelsea is fine by me.)

One more thing: hi to From the Doncaster Road End! Thanks for the link!