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Arsenal vs Liverpool: Confirmed Lineups (No Benzema!!)

Liverpool Transfer Review: Firmino, Milner and Co. need to hit the ground running!

Crystal Palace vs Liverpool : Lineups

Off the Mark: Tim Sherwood does his best, but Tottenham deserve a manager not learning on the job

Off the Mark: Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers has to be named Manager of the Year, whatever happens now

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The man with a plan is often a difficult man to take to, so engrossed and devoted to his own ideas as to frequently border on arrogance.

When that plan goes wrong the man is often left looking foolish, too obsessed with himself that he can’t see the bigger picture, stuck in a rut, one-dimensional.

It takes great strength, then, to persevere with that plan, to see it through to the end and to both adapt and improve upon it. In the Liverpool renaissance being masterminded by Brendan Rodgers, that is exactly what we are seeing now.

In his first year at Anfield it was easy to mock the Northern Irishman, to bring up quotes from his past when he was a younger coach, more naïve, perhaps covering up for his lack of experience and knowledge in a certain area by spouting a buzz-word or a phrase straight out of a managerial handbook.

When Liverpool were losing home and away to West Brom, at home to Aston Villa, away to Stoke and Southampton, at Oldham in the FA Cup it was easy to quote these words back at Rodgers, to make fun of him and to dress him up as some kind of egotist with a mistaken belief in his own importance. The first four letters of his first name are the same as the first four letters of the surname of a Ricky Gervais character too, and people noticed.

Yet despite all of that, and despite the setbacks which still ensure that really only one of the four transfer windows he’s presided over at Liverpool have been successful ones, look where he is now.

Rodgers has almost certainly guided the Reds to a top four finish this season, something that even the most optimistic of Liverpool supporters only dared to dream of in August, and it could yet get even better than that.

It is right that Rodgers’ side are still only considered as third favourites for the Premier League title behind the enormous strength of Chelsea and Manchester City’s squads and ahead of an Arsenal side who are about to enter some difficult fixtures, but even being there is a staggering enough achievement in itself.

Had you told those same Liverpool fans in August that this is where their team would be, and more importantly that the likes of Jon Flanagan, Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson would be playing starring roles within it, then you’d have been laughed out of Merseyside.

Less than a year ago Flanagan’s career seemed to have irreparably stalled. He’d picked up a serious injury and when Liverpool tried to farm him out on loan they were getting the brush off from League One clubs. He came in from the cold to start a match at Arsenal in November and plenty of fans groaned.

Sterling’s rapid rise in the first half of last season, when he was played more out of necessity than anything else, had ground to a halt. He put in an extremely nervy display at right wing-back against Crystal Palace in October and didn’t play again for two months. When he did at Hull he was awful. He’s been utterly fantastic ever since.

Henderson’s transformation has perhaps been the most staggering. From being a big money flop he has evolved to become one of the first names on the teamsheet behind the obvious ones. Actually, he probably is now one of the obvious ones. At Old Trafford on Sunday he bossed the midfield in a 3-0 win. Sterling was playing intelligently in the No. 10 role, Flanagan was tackling anything that moved.

Make no mistake, all of this is down to Rodgers.

The manager himself has had to learn from his mistakes and adapt and improve.

In September he made the bizarre choice to field four recognised centre-backs at home to Southampton and a defeat followed. The three-man defence should have been dispensed with earlier than at half-time in the Arsenal loss in November. Hull away in December was probably the club’s worst display of the season, whilst as recently as Aston Villa at home in January – probably Liverpool’s last bad game – he got his midfield shape wrong and had to bring on Lucas Leiva at half-time.

Yet he’ll have learned from all of that, and it will have made him a better manager.

Whatever happens to Liverpool between now and the middle of May, he deserves to be recognised for that improvement with the Manager of the Year award.

Who knows, it might not be the only trophy he’s seen lifting soon.

 

 

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Moyes has to go before more damage is done

It’s staggering that there are people claiming that tonight’s Champions League result against Olympiakos could make-or-break David Moyes’ Manchester United career. What difference should it make?

Even if they scrape through United are destined to lose to the first decent side they come up against, with the thought of what a Bayern Munich or a Barcelona could do to Moyes’ rudderless, confidence-free team barely worth thinking about for the club’s supporters.

Whether it’s now or in the summer Moyes needs to go in order for United to try and re-establish themselves amongst the elite of the modern game, and whatever happens tonight should have no bearing on that.

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Hammers worth a punt to nail United

The Manchester United misery goes on, and ensures that this weekend’s trip to West Ham is far from a simple one.

Andy Carroll scored at Stoke last weekend and he is just the type of forward who can make things difficult for the visitors’ dodgy defence.

With BetMcLean.com, The Hammers are 10/11 on the Double Chance, 16/5 to win and 11/2 to taste victory with a Carroll goal.

@Mark_Jones86

Update

Off the Mark: With Suarez back for Liverpool, the heat is on Rodgers

Swansea: More than just passing through

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As he pressed the flesh of pretty much everyone in sight at the Liberty Stadium on Sunday, there was a sense that Brendan Rodgers was a little more bothered about his return to Swansea City than his old club were.

Already faced with the embarrassment of seeing his Liverpool side lower in the table than the club he left for the Reds in the summer, Rodgers seemed determined to greet old friends with a fixed smile on his face, hugely laudable behaviour of course but perhaps also that of a man who was desperate to show that he had left for greener pastures in the summer whatever the league table says.

Ultimately Rodgers’ Liverpool were the better side in South Wales, particularly in the first half, and if anyone was going to claim the three points then it probably deserved to be them, but once again Swansea showed just what a valuable addition to the Premier League they have been since their promotion under Rodgers 18 months ago.

Luis Suarez still had his moments but ultimately he was shackled by Chico Flores and Ashley Williams – perhaps the Uruguayan’s unofficial biographer – in a more impressive manner than anyone has managed in the past six weeks, and if it makes a change to start off discussing a Swansea performance by focusing on their defence then maybe that will soon change if the centre-back pairing and full-backs Angel Rangel and Ben Davies continue in the manner that they have been.

That the focus so often shifts further forward is down to Swansea’s vibrant attackers and their protection of the ball of course, with Michu and Pablo Hernandez looking lively and Wayne Routledge and Nathan Dyer troubling Pepe Reina with a fine shot and a boot to the face respectively.

That was a rare ugly moment in a match that the purist would have loved had there been any goals, and one which again showcased Swansea’s commitment to possession.

In this day and age of endless tactics-based debate it is quite uncommon to find a club who are solely committed to playing a certain way regardless of who the manager is.

There is nothing revolutionary about the way that Swansea have gone about their game in recent years – although at times Rodgers would have you believe there is – but instead their approach symbolises a club who are comfortable with their pleasing image and want to stick to it.

Football pub bores will go to great lengths to tell you that it was of course Roberto Martinez who started off this Swansea culture of possession being nine tenths of the football law, which would be quite interesting if everyone didn’t know that already.

Under chairman Huw Jenkins, the Swans have protected this philosophy through the promise of Martinez, the wobbles of Paulo Sousa, the results of Rodgers and now the current regime of Michael Laudrup, perhaps the most laid back manager in the Premier League and certainly the one who can boast the best playing career.

Whilst that alone doesn’t guarantee success in the top job of course, a healthy eye for a good player certainly does, and Laudrup has demonstrated that in abundance during his brief tenure with the signings of the likes of Michu, Hernandez, Ki Sung-Yeung and Jonathan de Guzman.

Stationed in the top half of the table ahead of Wednesday’s meeting with the still upwardly mobile West Brom, Swansea appear to be perfectly placed to continue with the rapid progress they’ve made during their time in the top flight.

They’ll have their tough times of course – not least with trips to Arsenal and Tottenham and a home game against Manchester United before Christmas – but Swansea certainly don’t look like becoming involved in a relegation battle at any point this season, something that they were tipped to do under Rodgers and even under Laudrup by some.

The current Liverpool boss will have his own moments in his still new job, but the side he left behind will go on enjoying themselves for some time yet.

Swansea are doing much more than just passing through the Premier League.

@Mark_Jones86

Liverpool: The kids are alright, but is that enough?

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As symbolism goes the image was a pretty stark one.

On a chilly Sunday afternoon when there were many more serious issues than football to ponder at Anfield it seems wrong to pay so much attention to the mere matters that were going on at pitch level, but just seconds into the second half there was a moment that spoke volumes for just where Liverpool are heading under Brendan Rodgers.

The 18-year-old Jesús Joaquín Fernández Sáez de la Torre – or ‘Suso’ to his mates and now the millions worldwide who watched his Premier League debut on Sunday – picked the ball up on the left corner of the penalty area and was suddenly face-to-face with the man he’d entered the pitch with seconds earlier.

Whilst Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson had turned to Paul Scholes, 37, at half-time as his side sought to gain control of midfield now that Liverpool were down to 10 men, Rodgers had opted for Suso to replace the injured Fabio Borini.

Undeterred by the sense of occasion, the fact that this was his first act as a Premier League footballer nor that his side had seen a man sent off, Suso faced up to Scholes on the corner of the box, showed him the ball and then quick as a flash burst past a man more than twice his age. At that moment the great Scholes could probably feel his old bones creaking.

That Suso’s cross was only half-cleared and eventually – via the good work of Glen Johnson – resulted in Steven Gerrard firing Liverpool into a deserved lead only crystallised the moment more. These young Liverpool players, regardless of who they are facing and how many players they are facing them with, are fearless.

At 18 Suso wasn’t even the youngest Reds player on the pitch at the time, with that honour going to the 17-year-old Raheem Sterling. Jonjo Shelvey, 20, had somewhat harshly been sent off by then, whilst the injury suffered by the 22-year-old Martin Kelly would leave Liverpool with just nine men by full-time. Borini, 21, and Joe Allen, 22, were playing in their third Anfield league game since big summer moves to Merseyside, a switch made by 22-year-old second half substitute Jordan Henderson last year. The 19-year-old Andre Wisdom scored in the Europa League last week and could now be set for more appearances given that Kelly is out for the foreseeable future with an ACL injury. Many more young players at set to feature in the Capital One Cup at West Brom on Wednesday night.

The omnipresence of Gerrard and a late cameo from Jamie Carragher reminded everyone that this isn’t a total revolution just yet, but it is hard to think of a club operating at the levels Liverpool are that is currently putting so much faith in youth. As admirable as it is, the worry has to be that it is too much too soon.

The club’s failings in the transfer market have a lot to do with it of course, but Rodgers is on record extolling the virtues of his young charges.

As he and Ferguson have said in the past, young players will rarely let you down when called upon, but at a time when the club are coming to terms with a new style of play as well as new personnel with which to play it, the potential for errors has crept in. At this level such mistakes can and will be capitalised on, as United showed in coming back to win on Sunday.

The next three Premier League fixtures – away at Norwich and then at home to Stoke and Reading – have already been identified as crucial to Liverpool following their tough start, and the youngsters in the team are likely to have to grow up quickly if success is to be achieved in all of them.

There is no doubt that a great excitement builds when the likes of Suso and Sterling get the ball, but it is up to Gerrard and Luis Suarez to show seniority and help guide them. Allen, the excellent Johnson and the still acclimatising Nuri Sahin will prove important in this regard too.

Is it too much too young for some of these Liverpool players? That remains to be seen, but one thing that they are certainly not lacking in is confidence. If Suso can do that to Scholes, then anything is possible.

The kids aren’t United, they’re Liverpool, and this could just be the start of something special if it is given time.

@Mark_Jones86

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