Saturday Jan 16Posted by: Tonio Bone  9 Comments »

Stoke vs. Liverpool: Match Report

If anyone had any doubts that no one will ever predict a Liverpool line-up than the lunchtime match with Stoke City is further proof if any was ever needed. Wearing the all-black change kit, the Reds (Blacks) presented themselves with Reina, Carragher (Capt), Skrtel, Kyrgiakos, Insua, Degen, Mascherano, Lucas, Aurelio, Kuyt and Ngog. On the bench we had Cavalieri, Aquilani, Maxi, Riera, Spearing, Pacheco and Darby.

Liverpool presented themselves with a 4-4-2 formation for the match. Stoke City are THE Premier League team that base most of their attacking play on set pieces, Liverpool is THE Premier League club that has set pieces as it’s Achilles Heel. So all the conditions were right for an interesting contest.

With Agger not available, Kyrgiakos was drafted in, keeping in mind the aerial threat Stoke can provide. Lee Mason was the match referee, and we were on our way.

First Half

Electrifying atmosphere at the Brittania Stadium which is reputed to be the loudest football venue in the PL and the 27,247 present for the match promised to keep this record in check. Stoke make sure that all ball-boys carried the ever present towel to give Delap, Higgenbotham and Diao added grip on their long range handed efforts. This time, the towels were not removed.

It seemed evident from the line-up that we would have limited offensive potential, and proof of this was that Stoke’s shotstopper Sorensen got a first touch of the ball on the 10 minute mark. However, although most of the play was in midfield Liverpool started to increase offensive efforts which were all breaking up at the height of the penalty area. Our only shot at goal in the first half being a scuffed first time volley from Aurelio which ended up being an innocuous cross. Kuyt was practically ineffective up front and Ngog was being thrown and pushed around by Huth with great ease.

In the space of two minutes Stoke lost two important players with Delap coming off replaced by Lawrence, and Wilkinson coming on for Faye. In between these substitutions Lucas was yellow carded for appearing to go down too easily in the Stoke penalty area were all Liverpool players appealed for a penalty.

The rest of the half was played mostly in midfield with Stoke enjoying 65% of possession. If we had any intention of going for the three points, something had to be changed for the second half and both Kuyt and Ngog seemed ineffective and never really troubled the Stoke defense.

If anything the much feared aerial threat from set pieces never really seemed to trouble Reina much.

Second Half

The Reds seemed to start the second half with more initiative, but Stoke took control again soon after. On 57th minute, Liverpool were awarded a free kick for a challenge on Degen. Aurelio took charge and lashed in a screamer that somehow Kyrgiakos managed to push in goal out of sheer persistence. The goal came totally against the run of play but no Reds fan was complaining.

The Reds seemed to take reprieve out of the unexpected lead, then on 65th minute Riccardo Fuller was brought on for Sidibe in a straight swap. Moments later ex-Red Salif Diao was yellow carded for an angry reaction to a free kick blown against him by Lee Mason. Fuller made his presence felt almost immediately with a good headed effort from a corner that Reina neutralized. On 77th minute came the PL debut for Maxi Rodriquez in a Liverpool shirt (probably not the best game for a debut). Maxi replaced Philippe Degen.

With Aquilani coming on for Ngog on 87th, Stoke organized their final onslaught and notwithstanding Pepe Reina being superlatively secure and imposing in clearing all Stoke’s volleys into his penalty box, a congenital defect of zonal marking (no one guarding the posts) gave Robert Huth the chance to equalize for Stoke City on the 89th minute, and I must say that the survival fighters deserved at least a point from the game.

Five minutes were added in the second period, and on the 95th minute of play, Liverpool played their best move of the game. Aquilani picked ball on the half line sending Aurelio to run on the left flank. The brazilian sent in a cross that Kuyt pounced on in a flying header that hit the upright and bounce back into play. We might have deserved a stroke of luck but it would have been totally unfair on Stoke.

If statistics mean anything we did not have a single corner kick to our account and we had only 2 clear shots on goal; one went in, the second hit the upright.

We got one point from this game and 4th spot seems that bit more distant. Next up are Spurs at Anfield on Wednesday. May the Gods help us!

My man of the match is Reina without question. He did nothing wrong, not even getting a yellow card for time wasting. Kyrgiakos was called upon and did his job, with the added bonus of scoring a goal in place of a very ineffective attack which was totally outmanned by Shawcross and Huth. Maxi’s debut cannot be judged and Aquilani only came on to waste some time. Carra did well on the right, Insua was slightly dodgy on the left. Skrtel was very secure. Mascherano and Lucas ran their socks off as usual. Kuyt was disappointing except for the last second effort what would have brought some respite. Degen and Aurelio on the flanks did not seem that effective but they did provide a decent defensive cover when called upon. The curious thing about Degen is that the lad always seems to have a smile on his face even when he is being kicked about. By the way, I did see Aurelio kick the ball with his right on two occasions (what a relief).

Six wins in 21 matches is just not what we are used to! Anyone ready to forecast the line up against Spurs?

Saturday Jan 16Posted by: Antoine Zammit  2 Comments »

Stoke 1 – Liverpool 1 (Disappointed by the result not by the performance)

You wonder if that injury time effort by Kuyt would have gone in if there will be cries for Rafa’s head right now?

We already knew that it was going to be though and at this point I will take the point, it is going to be a rough 5 months but we need to stick together and support our players and manager.

I am very disappointed with the goal we conceded in the last few seconds but that is football, it is a cruel sport.

And YES that was a clear penalty that Lee Mason denied us and to add insult to injury he yellow carded Lucas.

My M.O.T.M. was Krygiakos, he played a very good game defensively shutting out Tuncay and scored Liverpool’s first league goal for the year and for the decade.

Y.N.W.A.

-Antoine

antoine@empireofthekop.com

Saturday Jan 16Posted by: Antoine Zammit  1 Comment »

Lineup vs Stoke

Mascherano is back in the starting 11 as Maxi and Aquilani start on the bench.

Starting XI : Reina, Carragher, Kyrgiakos, Skrtel, Insua, Degen, Lucas, Mascherano, Aurelio, Kuyt, Ngog.
Subs : Cavalieri, Aquilani, Riera, Maxi, Spearing, Darby, Pacheco.

 |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  | 
Friday Jan 15Posted by: Michael Owen  18 Comments »

Selection Headache for Reds Ahead of Stoke Clash

With a host of first team players out of action for Liverpool’s trip to the Britannia Stadium Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez faces a selection headache going into the game on Saturday.

The most notable absentees from the Liverpool dressing room tomorrow will be talismanic captain Steven Gerrard and top scorer Fernando Torres.

The two star players aren’t the only injuries the Reds boss will have to address going into the match. Israeli midfielder Yossi Benayoun will miss out along with winger Albert Riera and England first-choice right-back Glen Johnson.

However the Liverpool manager can take some comfort in the fact that he has new signing Maxi Rodriguez at his disposal to face the Potters after the winger signed a permanent deal of Wednesday night.

The Reds will also be boosted by the return from suspension of Argentine captain Javier Mascherano, who may slot into the middle alongside Lucas Leiva.

Taking all this into account Rafa has a tough job on his hands in deciding who will be in his starting eleven. Here’s my selection

GK: Reina

RB: Phillip Degen
CB: Jamie Carragher
CB: Martin Skrtel
LB: Daniel Agger

RM: Maxi Rodriguez
CM: Alberto Aquilani
CM: Javier Mascherano
LM: Fabio Aurelio

AM: Dirk Kuyt

ST: David N’gog

It’s a tough choice to make, but that’s how I’d line-up.

Stoke are experts in the air so a tall and solid defense is essential which is my reasoning behind dropping Emiliano Insua from the first-team after a string of less than consistent performances.

Although many Reds may have chose Steven Darby over Phillip Degen I thought the full-back put in a decent shift against Reading and made some great runs down the wing and into their box. Last season we had trouble breaking down the Potters and I believe extra pressure from the full-backs may just make a difference.

The middle of the park was a tough choice to make, while I’d like to see Lucas in the center along with Mascherano, with Aquilani supporting Kuyt up front I felt we needed a more attacking option in the middle. With Fabio Aurelio looking like the only candidate for the left side (Babel claimed on Twitter he’s not in the squad) we needed a more attacking presence in the middle than the Brazilian.

Whenever I’ve seen Kuyt in the hole supporting the striker I’ve always thought he’s done a decent job. He lacks the pace to be a true winger and I think it brings out the best in him when he’s brought inside, hence why I put him in behind David N’gog.

Speaking of the Frenchmen I was unsure whether he’d be affective against a rough and tumble Stoke side, but with Torres out through injury and Voronin gone to Moscow Kuyt would be the only other real option and I’d much prefer him to be in the hole supporting N’gog than than Aquilani there supporting Kuyt.

While Pacheco has done brilliantly in the reserves whether it’s the right game to give him his first full debut is questionable. Although if he fit straight in he could be ideal to sit behind the striker if he doesn’t fit in it could cause us even more problems, which we just simple can’t risk at the moment, not when a win is needed.

Tell me your choices in the comments section, you might agree or you might think I’m totally off the mark. Whatever you think post it up.

M. Owen

michael@empireofthekop.com

Friday Jan 15Posted by: Antoine Zammit  2 Comments »

Stoke vs Liverpool (Saturday)

Our first league game of the season takes us to Stoke as we try to put the FA cup exit behind us and focus on moving up the Premier League table.

Rafa has another selection headache with Benayoun, Torres, Gerrard, El Zhar, Riera and Johnson all injured.
Javier Mascherano is expected to return to action after his injury and ban. Pepe Reina is also expected to return in goal after missing the Reading game due to a “knock”. Maxi might make his LFC debut.

Ryan Babel tweeted this morning that he is not in the squad
@RyanBabel Hey people, I got some disappointing news, I m not travelling 2 Stoke.. The Boss left me out the squad. No explanation..

Not a good move Ryan, maybe tweets like these announcing the fact that you are not in the squad before Rafa did to the press is the reason why you are not in the squad.

OK, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE DO NOT BITCH ABOUT RAFA’S SELECTION

Instead use all your energy to shout for our lads they are going to need it, COME ON REDS.

Kick off is at 12:45 PM (UK time)

Thursday Dec 31Posted by: Amanda Musch  5 Comments »

Sami Hyypiä elected to the best defender of the German Bundesliga

The German leading sport magazine “kicker” released a list of the best Bundesliga football players of the year 2009. Sami Hyypiä, the former Liverpool’s number 4, who is actually playing for the front-runner Bayer 04 Leverkusen, was chosen to the best defender of the German league.

What convinced the most was Sami’s serenity, the quality of his headers and decisions, his reliability and inimitable charisma which is something of a rarity in the German football.

“There was no arguing about this choice in our office. Sami Hyypiä is a world class player and he is simply the best defender in our league, there is no doubt about that. Bayer Leverkusen is very lucky to have a player of such a unique quality in the squad. The rest of the league is unimaginable jealous of him”, explained “kicker” in the latest issue of the magazine.

Well, the Liverpool fans can estimate Sami’s value the best. We are happy for him, his success in Germany and for his new team, of course. Congratulations, Sami! You deserve that. But even if your new shirt is also red and it fits good, we would love to have you back. We still miss you!! YNWA

A Happy New Year to all Liverpool players, supporters, empireofthekop.com writers and readers.

Amanda

amanda@empireofthekop.com