Sunday, 29 January 2012

Cup double over Manchester: Kuyt k.o. United

Sports - Football - FA Cup - Liverpool 2:1 Man Utd

Liverpool did the double over Manchester, beating United 2:1 to eliminate them from the FA Cup after they had battled out a 3:2 aggregate win over their City rivals to reach the Carling Cup final earlier in the week.

It was not a quite as feisty affair at Anfield, roaring boos against Patrice Evra being the only dark clowd and reminder of the Luis Suarez racism row of the last meeting between the two rivals.

Liverpool had the upper hand early on with more chance before taking the lead accordingly thanks to a Daniel Agger header off a corner with United's goalkeeper David De Gea too busy pushing away Andy Carroll rather than covering his line and goal.

But the trend soon shifted with United pulling back possession, territory, chances and in the end a goal when Ji-Sung Park poked in the equaliser. 

It ended a fascinating first half which saw United's growing hold on the game reflected by the score line. But the second half panned out less fascinating but more hard work as both sides pressed but did not get much in the opposition's box. Liverpool looked more attacking, the changes reflecting that and showing clear intentions.

Both sides saw two penalty shouts denied by the officials, fair dues, both hand balls but inadvertent, impossible to get away from, good refereeing at both ends. 

The game continued frustrating, with more pressure by Liverpool, but all attacks dell to bits in the box, no close shouts or shots by either side.

With minutes left, Dirk Kuyt smacked in Carroll's cross-header off Pepe Reina's goalkick, giving De Gea no chance and Liverpool the lead. Kuyt's 50th goal for the club saw the Reds through to the next round of the FA Cup and deservedly so, King Kenny can be more than proud of his club's display and achievements over the last week.

Liverpool Goals: 1.: 20:04 min Daniel Agger (5), 2.: 87:20 min Dirk Kuyt (18).

Liverpool: Reina; Skrtel, Carragher (Kuyt 63), Agger; Kelly, Gerrard (Bellamy 72), Henderson, Enrique; Downing, Carroll, Maxi (Adam 63). (3-4-3)
Subs not used: Doni, Johnson, Coates, Shelvey.

Man United Goals: 1.: 38:38 min Ji-Sung Park (13).

Man United: De Gea; Rafael (booked 66), Smalling, Evans, Evra; Carrick, Scholes (Hernandez 76), Giggs (Berbatov 90); Valencia, Welbeck, Park. (4-3-3)
Subs not used: Lindegaard, Ferdinand, da Silva, Keane, Pogba.

1st & 2nd half stats:
Liverpool-Man United
Attempts: 5-3 & 9-5
On target: 3-2 & 4-0
Offsides: 1-0 & 1-0
Corners: 3-0 & 2-1
Free kicks: 6-5 & 5-4
Possession: 38%-62% (37.min), 43%-57% (FT)

Referee: Mark Halsey (Lancashire)
Man of the match: Dirk Kuyt

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Liverpool through to Wembley final

Sports - Football - Carling Cup - Liverpool 2:2 Man City

Liverpool's hard work payed off, another Steven Gerrard penalty and Craig Bellamy's fine curl shot seeing their side through to the Carling Cup final with a 2:2 draw on the night at Anfield, 3:2 on aggregate, to take the Reds to Wembley and end their 16-year absence.

 Bellamy Craig. scores for Liverpool v Manchester City

Joe Hart's heroics for City were all to no avail in the end after the England goalkeeper had created some breathtaking saves against Gerrard, Bellamy, Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam, Dirk Kuyt and Martin Skrtel.

In both halves, City made comebacks out of nowhere and gave them hope they could pull themselves out and through somehow.

First, after 30 minutes of Liverpool dominance, the home side creating chance after chance and seeing a Bellamy goal disallowed for offside, Nigel de Jong smacked one in from outside the box, a right-foot slip-curler, top-strike giving City the lead against the run of play.

But the lead did not last long, when on 39 Micah Richards handled the ball inside his box and conceded a penalty. The defender did not know much about it, it went so quick and before he or City knew it, Gerrard netted the penalty and took Liverpool into half time level on the night, leading 2:1 on aggregate.

The second half showed the same trend, Liverpool dominating and outclassing City until halfway through the half Edin Dzeko blasted one in off Aleksandar Kolarov's beauty of a cross from the left to give City another unpredictable lead.

Five minutes later, man of the match Bellamy killed off any City excitement or hope, curling Glen Johnson's cross into the left corner after a nice one-two cross exchange.

City tried to press late on but never looked too much of a threat to Pepe Reina, not seeing another comeback out of nowhere.

It was a fair result after a tense thriller, which saw Liverpool through to the final where they will meet Bellamy's former side Cardiff at Wembley on Sunday 23rd February.

But before the Reds get too excited, they should check their fixture list: with Manchester United up next at Anfield in the FA Cup fourth round, February will see Liverpool welcome Tottenham home and meet United again at Old Trafford this time in the Premier League before the big Carling Cup final against the Welsh side (followed by Arsenal at home in the league!).

It will be make or break time for Kenny Dalglish over the next few weeks, the Reds expectantly waiting for their first trophy since 2006.

Liverpool Goals: 1.: 39:53 min Steven Gerrard (8) penalty, 2.: 73:36 min Craig Bellamy (39).

Liverpool: Reina; Glen Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique (booked 64); Henderson, Adam, Downing, Gerrard (booked 5); Bellamy (Kelly 87), Kuyt (Carroll 91). (4-4-2)
Subs not used: Doni, Coates, Shelvey, Carragher, Maxi.

Man City Goals: 1.: 30:51 min Nigel De Jong (34), 2.: 66:38 min Edin Dzeko (10).

Man City: Hart; Richards, Savic (Aguero HT), Lescott, Kolarov (booked 56); De Jong (Adam Johnson 78), Barry, Zabaletta; Silva, Nasri, Dzeko. (4-3-3)
Subs not used: Pantilimon, Hargreaves, Milner, Clichy, Rekik.

1st & 2nd half stats:
Liverpool-Man City
Attempts: 8-2 & 7-4
On target: 6-1 & 5-3
Offsides: 4-0 & 2-1
Corners: 8-1 & 4-1
Free kicks: 2-4 & 5-3

Sky Stats:
Liverpool-Man City
Possession: 38%-62% (19.min), 40.5%-59.5% (1st half), 35.1%-64.9% (2nd half) & 37.9%-62.1% (FT)
Passing Success: 74.6%-86.7
Territorial Advantage: 55.5%-45.5%
Action Areas: Liverpool 12%-41%-47% Man City (59.min)

Referee: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire)
Man of the match: Craig Bellamy

Monday, 23 January 2012

Week 22: Premier League Tops and Flops

Sports - Football - Premier League - Picks of the Weekend

Saturday alone saw 27 goals! Only one team in the top half of the table pocketed three points on the day- that team being Sunderland. The Sunday double kick-off of the two Manchester clubs and their wins over their London rivals at the top of the table would be the all-too-obvious picks, but there was so much more:

Danny Murphy penaltyTop game: It was a weekend of spectacular goals and comebacks: A superb strike by Danny Guthrie opened the score for Newcastle and gave them a false sence of security, comfort and confidence at Fulham. A soft penalty taken by Danny Murphy then gave Fulham the equaliser and put both former Liverpool players on the score sheet. Clint Dempsey's 13th goal of the season made it 2-1 and his 14th followed soon after with a cracking finish to make it 3-1 and him the highest American scorer in Premier League history. Bobby Zamora netted the second penalty to make it 4-1 which added together to four goals in 16 minutes! A good bit of skill by Hatem Ben Arfa tucking himself inside the defender made it 4-2. But Dempsey with a hat-trick made sure that at 5-2 it all stayed under Fulham's control! What a game of two halves and comeback kings!

Jermain Defoe missing a chanceTop team: Eventhough it ended up in defeat, Tottenham were more than just an opposition to league leaders Manchester City. They were strong competitors who looked set to be the first side to deny Robert Mancini's side a home win in the Premier League. It was a quite firm competition until it all kicked of in the second half with four goals in ten minutes. Gareth Bale's looked like he had grabbed Spurs a point when he met the ball first-time and curled it into the top corner, until Ledley King was penalised for pulling down Mario Balotelli and the Italian substitute stepped up to beat Brad Friedel. Spurs are now eight points behind the leaders in third place, but five points ahead of Chelsea in fourth, making the Champions League spot more and more their own.

Andre Villas-Boas and an injured Frank LampardTop player: Robbie Keane starred for the other comeback kings of the day, Aston Villa, with two gobsmacking goals! After making his debut for Wolves over 14 years ago, he returned to the Premier League on loan from Los Angeles Galaxy, beating his former side in spectacular fashion. The Irishman hasn't seen much action over the last month-and-a-bit, the more impressive his display way. Steve Morison and Frank Lampard had scored in every game for their respective teams so far this year, Norwich and Chelsea having won all three games before their goalless draw.

Robbie Keane and Aston Villa celebrateTop goal: Keane's 125th Premier League goal deserves to be put under this category not only for the statistic or for the comeback but also in what skilful fashion it was executed. Keane made defender Roger Johnson pay for a poor headed clearance by lashing his long-range strike in off the crossbar from 25 yards out.

Top news: FA Cup 4th round coming up, with Liverpool facing bitter rivals Manchester United at Anfield, in the last week of the January transfer window 2012.

A Norwich fan with a painted faceFlop game: I knew before it kicked off, United against Arsenal could not compete against City's win over Tottenham in terms of entertainment and quality (and goals) and it didn't. Chelsea's goalless draw against Norwich was just an agonising watch. The chances that were created weren's even close. Norwich will be more than glad about the result, but Chelsea will have to worry whether they can keep hold of a Champions League spot if they continue like this.

Nigel Reo-CokerFlop team: Liverpool showed some shocking defending! They were two goals down within 28 minutes, allowing man-of-the-match Chris Eagles to run free, all Red shirts around the box but leaving Mark Davies and Nigel Reo-Coker still free to score both goals. Craig Bellamy pulled one back, but it was again a case of false hope. Bolton sealed the win at 3-1 with a magnificent finish after David Wheater headed back Martin Petrov's corner for Gretar Steinsson to volley the ball into the bottom right-hand corner. It looked all too easy for Bolton, whilst the Reds drew a sorry, very sorry picture of themselves.

Mario Balotelli and Scott ParkerFlop player: Balotelli cannot stay out of the headlines and his stamp on Scott Parker was just so evil, it's ridiculous! Various reporters were discussing whether the striker knew where Parker's head was, whether it was just an unlucks accident... Please! Who would kick back like that if there wasn't anything or anyone there they were targeting?!
Another player under negative scrutiny, Fernando Torres was NOT on the scoreboard for Chelsea once again with chances galore, but no goal. The Spaniard has now gone 15 games without scoring, the last one against Genk in October, his worst run since he came to England when he joined Liverpool from Atletico Madrid in the summer of 2007. No bien!

James Morrison celebratesFlop goal: Stoke keeper Thomas Sorensen will not want to see either goal which gave West Brom a win and three points at the Britannia Stadium. West Brom hadn't beaten Stoke in 10 meetings in 30 years. When the ball swerved over Sorensen's left leg after he saw it too late and wrong-sided, it was clearly one of those video-collection-blooper moments which gave the visitors the lead. After Stoke had equalised and thought they would escape with a point, an injury-time free kick in by Graham Dorrans saw goalkeeper Sorensen helpless again and Stoke losing two goals and three points to West Brom. OUCH!

Flop news: Harry Redknapp's tax-dodging trial starts this coming week, see what comes out there... I wonder if his pet dog Rosie will be questioned in court, too...

My predictions - Actual results
Norwich 2:1 Chelsea - 0:0
Everton 1:1 Blackburn - 1:1
Fulham 1:2 Newcastle - 5:2
QPR 2:2 Wigan - 3:1
Stoke 1:0 West Brom - 1:2
Sunderland 2:1 Swansea - 2:0
Wolves 1:1 Aston Villa - 2:3
Bolton 2:3 Liverpool - 3:1
Man City 1:2 Tottenham - 3:2
Arsenal 2:2 Man Utd - 1:2

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Week 21: Premier League Tops and Flops

Sports - Football - Premier League - Picks of the Weekend

Swansea City's Danny Graham (right) celebrates with team-mate Nathan Dyer after scoring his side's third goal of the game Top game: Swansea's 3:2 Arsenal was a gem! It had everything! Robin van Persie opened the scoring with his 18th PL goal of the season, equalling his best season of his career 2010/11, 0:1. This record was followed by controversy with Swansea's penalty equaliser, 1:1. Then in the second half, the Swans' pressure payed off, Nathan Dyer's top class finish turned the game around, 2:1. But then the home side switched off, for just that one second and BOOM, they let one in, Theo Walcott free and in for the equaliser, 2:2. However, seconds later (45 seconds to be exact), Swansea took back the lead, 3:2! Great finish from a tight angle, Danny Graham kept composure and got it right in there. WOW!  Breathtaking stuff! What a game! Brilliant win for the Swans! Arsenal kept the pressure up late on but too little, too late, the hard earned and well deserved three points are Swansea's for keeps! WOW!

Steven Fletcher (right) celebrates scoring for Wolves at White Hart LaneTop team: All hard work and endeaver came to nothing for Tottenham, but it was a terrific point for Wolves, who worked their socks off! After all the title talk over the last couple of days, Spurs' stumble came as no surprise, the pressure's on. At Manchester United, everything seemed to be back to normal, three goals, three points, taking them level with City before they scraped out a win at Wigan to restore their three-point lead at the top.

Paul Scholes (right) celebrates scoring for Manchester UnitedTop player: After Thierry Henry for Arsenal in the Carling cup, Paul Scholes scored in his comeback match for Manchester United, Antonio Valencia and Wayne Rooney in the buildup, past Danny Welbeck, the old man was not going to miss that one! Wigan's Ali Al Habsi was brilliant, he made some breathtaking instinctive saves, denying Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero more than once and sparing his side from a thrash against City. Shame they could not make more of it, they had their fair share of chances, too.

Blackburn Rovers Mauro Formica scores his side's third goal of the game Top goal: Blackburn striker David Hoilett pulled a great save from Fulham goalkeeper David Stockdale. Sub Mauro Formica was on side and swiped the ball in, sweet goal, sweet game, sweet result, sweet points for Blackburn and Steve Kean, especially after going down to ten men so early on! Extraordinary performance which took them out of the relegation zone for the first time since September.

Top news: After a week that saw the return of the legends with Henry and Scholes, Robbie Kean has joined that list after signing for Aston Villa on loan from Loas Angeles Galaxy. Although he is definitely not the same rank as the other two who have returned to their teams of heart and history, unlike Kean with Tottenham, I am curious to see what impact he will make at Villa, if any...

Martin Skrtel wins a header for Liverpool against StokeFlop game: Liverpool are not getting beaten but can't get a win at Anfield either! This weekend saw another goalless draw against Stoke, seeing plenty of chances going to waste. Everyone seemed to have an off day missing everything, including referee Howard Webb! It doesn't hide the fact though that Liverpool have only won four of their last 11 home matches, that means 14 points dropped and lost, which would have seen them one point ahead of United in second place! Instead Kenny Dalglish's boys are stuck in seventh, left scratching their heads.

Frank Lampard hits Chelsea's winnerFlop team: Martin O'Neill was on his knees. Chelsea's defence looked in shambles at times, Sunderland missing the loads of chances. Similar to Wigan's draw against City, it was the underdogs against the rich and glamourous, with the prior frustrating the latter and looking like they could pull off a shock and nick a point (or three). But it was not to be, for Sunderland at least, but they (Wigan especially) can hold their heads up high, if they show the same stubbornness and determination against fellow strugglers and teams lower down the table, they should be able to survive in the Premier League.

Blackburn's Yakubu tackles Fulham's Danny MurphyFlop player: Having Aygbeni Yakubu sent off so early on in the match was cruel for Blackburn. He saw an instant red for his high tackle on Danny Murphy. Everyone was gob-smacked, but it was knee-high, studds showing, red all day long in my book! It was just stupid. But it seemed to pull the team together. Not that he or any player should feel encouraged to repeat such foolishness, but Steve Kean can be proud that his guys didn't let themselves be dragged down by such act and feel sorry for themselves. They got a grip and a win with it!

chelsea v sunderland fernando torres kieran richardsonFlop goal: It was a spectacular take by Fernando Torres which came off the bar, off Frank Lampard and in. Great technique by the Spaniard but Lampard's on the scoresheet, not him. Tough luck. Wolves' goal came from a corner that shouldn't have been given and Emmanuel Adebayor's goal was wrongly ruled out for offside, so Tottenham have good reasons not to be happy with the result. No discrediting Wolves' hard work and effort though.

Flop news: Blackburn captain Christopher Samba missed his side's 3-1 win against Fulham as he was having tests in hospital for severe stomach cramps. Then the story broke, he handed in a transfer request saying "the side is not improving at all". Did he miss this weekend's action? Didn't they show football in hospital? Did they hit him in the head?

My predictions - Actual results
Aston Villa 0:2 Everton - 1:1
Blackburn 1:1 Fulham - 3:1
Chelsea 1:2 Sunderland - 1:0
Liverpool 3:0 Stoke - 0:0
Man Utd 2:0 Bolton - 3:0
Tottenham 3:0 Wolves - 1:1
West Brom 2:2 Norwich - 1:2
Newcastle 1:0 QPR - 1:0
Swansea 1:2 Arsenal - 3:2
Wigan 1:1 Man City - 0:1

Friday, 13 January 2012

Week 16-20: Premier League Tops and Flops

Sports - Football - Premier League - Picks of the last 5

It has been a mad few weeks indeed. Not only have Christmas and New Year kept everyone on their toes and (hopefully) jolly, but the football grounds and pitches have certainly not gathered much dust. Quite the opposite. They have seen everything! From shocks and horrors, to delight and despair, to complete and utter ecstasy and/or ugliness. Well, to make up for my gap in blogging, here are the key facts and stats and my picks of the last five match weeks = 50 games from the 17th December 2011 to 4th January 2012, before the international break:

Top Facts:

- 125 goals scored = average of 2.5 goals per game.

- 136 bookings made = avergage of 2.72 yellow cards per game.

- 7 red cards shown = average of 0.14 sendings off per game or one player sent off every 7.143 games.

- 16 different score lines on the board, top 5 of those were 1:1 (11 times), 1:2 (8 times) and 1:0 (6 times), 0:2 (5 times) and 0:0 (4 times).

- There have only been three games without any bookings, all three of them ending 1:1: Wigan v Chelsea (18.12), Bolton v Wolves and Norwich v Fulham (both 31/12). Faire play and result or coincidence?

Top 5 games: I like surprises, so the most shocking results no one would have predicted made it on this list for me (listed chronologically):

Jordi Gomez celebrates his goal- Wigan's 1:1 v Chelsea and 0:0 v Liverpool: Having struggled in the bottom three since October, the Latics kicked off the Christmas period with two hard-fought and well-deserved draws against two top Premier League sides. Jordi Gomez's late equaliser denied Chelsea a win and Ali Al-Habsi penalty save against Charlie Adam and overall top performance denied Liverpool a win at the DW stadium. You would have thought these two results should have served to up Wigan's confidence and fight to get out of the relegation zone, but things went downhill from there. Shame.

Grant Hanley scores the winner for Blackburn- Man Utd 2:3 Blackburn: After winning eight of their last nine matches since their 6-1 thrashing home defeat against local rivals City and scoring 25 and conceding only 3 in the process, Sir Alex Ferguson could not have asked for a better 70th birthday present than welcoming bottom-of-the-table Blackburn to Old Trafford, expecting an easy win. In the end, under-fire Steve Kean could not have asked for a better New Year's present, because United's back line were terrible, the third goal killing off the home resistance and any chances of a comeback.

Stephen Ireland scores for Aston Villa- Chelsea 1:3 Aston Villa: Both sides were going through a slump, the Blues having drawn the last three whilst Villa suffered defeats against Arsenal and Liverpool and could only save one point at Stoke. The visitors outplayed the hosts tactically and passionately, Villa just seemed to WANT the win and points that much more. Didier Drogba scored his 150th goal with a penalty whilst Fernando Torres rattled the crossbar, the goal still deluding him. Apart from that, Stephen Ireland and Villa worked hard and bossed the match, ironing out a hard earned, well deserved win.

Ji Dong-won rounds Joe Hart to score- Sunderland 1:0 Man City: It was Martin O'Neill's fifth match as Sunderland manager and the total post-Steve-Bruce revamp continued. The game started slow but the second half produced some pulsating end-to-end stuff and ended with a breathless counter-attack. Nicklas Bendtner and Stephane Sessegnon were denied a goal either side of the break, with Edin Dzeko and Micah Richards both hitting the woodwork. But with the last kick of the game, Ji Dong-Won latched on to Sessegnon's pass well and rounded Joe Hart to win it. Late slump for City, brilliant stuff for the neutral eye.

Newcastle striker Demba Ba (centre) celebrates with his team-mates- Newcastle 3:0 Man Utd: Even Fergie had to credit this one! This was arguably his side's worst performance, no discredit to the Toons' top performance though! The Red Devils' back line failed to cope with all the pressure, Rio Ferdinand and Phil Jones failing miserably against Demba Ba and Shola Ameobi. Yohan Cabaye's wonderful free kick put the sweet icing on the wonderful cake for Newcastle, who had not won in their previous 18 league meetings since a 4-3 success in September 2001, while the result emulated the 3-0 victory of February 2000.* The only other Premier League win for Newcastle over Manchester United, home or away, was the famous 5-0 in October 1996.* Phillipe Albert scored a memorable fifth in that game and he was on the gantry for Belgian TV on Wednesday night.*

Top 5 teams:

Wayne Rooney celebrates his first goal at the Etihad- Top scorers: Man Utd with 14 goals, although ten of them came from two games, both 5-0 thrashings at Fulham and against Wigan at home. Tottenham and Newcastle follow them on the top scorers' list with eight goals in the last five games, then City with seven.

Aaron Lennon- Top form: Tottenham are the only side who remained undefeated in the last five games (WDWDW = 11 points out of a possible 15). W13 D3 L3 - Tottenham have only once had a better league record after 19 games in the top flight - that was 1960-61 (W17 D1 L1).* In the last five games, formwise, Spurs are followed by: City (WWDLW) and Sunderland (LWDWW), who won 10 out of 15 points suffering only one defeat.

Yaya Toure (second left) scores for Manchester City- Top defence: City also make the top defence, having only conceded one goal in all five games. That goal came from Sunderland in their home win against the top dogs. Man City have won their last 14 PL home games, their second best run in the top-flight after 16 in a row in 1921.* Tottenham have only conceded two goals. The Swans are the next best defenders with only three goals given away, their lack of attack though, with just four goals, leading them to only one win (DLDDW = 6 out of 15 points). The Welsh side have also committed fewer fouls than any other team in the Premier League.* Clean and robust but not productive.

Demba Ba scores for Newcastle- Top players: Arsenal's Robin van Persie still tops the Premier League score list with 17 goals but Toon Ba has impressed me most with his 15 goals in 15 League appearances. City's Sergio Aguero (14) and Blackburn's Ayegbeni Yakubu (12) are serving their sides well through some difficult times whilst the likes of Dzeko (10) and Mario Balotelli (8) who have shown plenty of quality in the past, have gone more quiet, behind the shadows a bit lately. The return of Thierry Henry has made me a very happy woman! And I know it was not in the Premier League, but his winning  return-goal against Leeds in the FA Cup third round could not have made a tastier appetiser for seeing him back in the Premier League! J'aime Thierry!

Adam Bogdan concedes from Tim HowardTop goal: There are sooooo many to choose from, so I'm going for the freakiest again: Everton's Tim Howard is the fourth goalkeeper in Premier League history to score a goal, after Peter Schmeichel, Brad Friedel and Paul Robinson. Howard scored from inside his own box when his kick bounced 30 yards from Bolton's goal and, with the help of the wind and weather, the ball flew over visiting keeper Adam Bogdan. It didn't help his side in the match as they still fell to a 2:1 home defeat against Bolton, but believe me, he could not have done more!

Top news: Plenty of action, drama, thrills, spills, shocks, horrors and controversy in the FA Cup third round and Carling Cup semi finals and the ins and outs of the January transfer window.

Flop games: No such thing in the Premier League! Not that it's worth or that I can recount anyway!

Flop teams:

- Flop scorers: Quite a few teams have been low scores with only four or five goals in the last five games. Here is the list, with only four goals: Wigan, QPR, Aston Villa and Swansea; and only five goals in the last five games: Bolton, West Brom, Everton, Arsenal (! - well, thank god Thierry's back, ey! ;-))

- Flop form: QPR (LLDLL) and Wolves (LDDDL) are the only two sides to have seen no wins over the last five games in the Christmas and New Year period. Worrying.

- Flop defence: Norwich and Blackburn have both failed to keep clean sheets in the opening 20 games of the season, equaling Bolton's record (2009-10 season).* Wigan have conceded the most in the last five games by far with 12 goals. Blackburn and QPR follow next on the worst defense list with nine goals conceded.

Flop players: Luis Suarez and Balotelli have without a doubt caught as much attention on the pitch as they have off it, filling the news with both good and bad headlines. Andy Carroll and Fernando Torres have definitely shared more misses than cheers with their fans and team mates. None of Carroll's last 26 headed shots in the Premier League have resulted in goals and he has had more headed shots off target (13) than any other player in the Premier League this season.* Torres has scored more Premier League goals for Liverpool in 2011 than he has for Chelsea (3) and had just 1 more shot on target in 2011 for Chelsea than for Liverpool (11) this calendar year.* Just like with Michael Owen, I knew, the day he left Liverpool, he waved goodbye to becoming a legend. 

Flop news: First sacking of the year is already out of the way with Neil Warnock sent packing by QPR after a bad run of eight Premier League games without a win. Former Wales/Blackburn/City/Fulham boss Mark Hughes has taken over... Good luck on that one, Mark!

*Thanks to Opta Sports for some interesting stats and facts. The rest I've all noted, scribbled and calculated myself with some peeking on the BBC and SkySports websites and match reports.

My predictions - Useless! - Actual results:
Week 16:
Blackburn 2:0 West Brom - 1:2
Everton 3:1 Norwich - 1:1
Fulham 2:1 Bolton - 2:0
Newcastle 3:1 Swansea - 0:0
Wolves 2:1 Stoke - 1:2
Wigan 0:4 Chelsea - 1:1
QPR 0:1 Man Utd - 0:2
Aston Villa 1:2 Liverpool - 0:2
Tottenham 3:0 Sunderland - 1:0
Man City 3:1 Arsenal - 1:0
Week 17:
Wolves 2:1 Norwich - 2:2
Blackburn 3:2 Bolton - 1:2
Aston Villa 2:3 Arsenal - 1:2
Man City 2:0 Stoke - 3:0
Newcastle 2:2 West Brom - 2:3
Everton 3:1 Swansea - 1:0
Fulham 2:2 Man Utd - 0:5
QPR 1:1 Sunderland - 2:3
Wigan 0:1 Liverpool - 0:0
Tottenham 2:1 Chelsea - 1:1
Week 18:
Chelsea 2:1 Fulham - 1:1
Bolton 3:2 Newcastle - 0:2
Liverpool 3:1 Blackburn - 1:1
Man Utd 4:1 Wigan - 5:0
Sunderland 2:2 Everton - 1:1
West Brom 1:3 Man City - 0:0
Stoke 3:2 Aston Villa - 0:0
Arsenal 2:0 Wolves - 1:1
Swansea 0:0 QPR - 1:1
Nowich 1:3 Tottenham - 0:2
Week 19:
Liverpool 3:0 Newcastle - 3:1
Man Utd 2:1 Blackburn - 2:3
Arsenal 2:1 QPR - 1:0
Bolton 2:1 Wolves - 1:1
Chelsea 2:1 Aston Villa - 1:3
Norwich 2:1 Fulham - 1:1
Stoke 2:1 Wigan - 2:2
Swansea 2:1 Tottenham - 1:1
West Brom 2:1 Everton - 0:1
Sunderland 2:1 Man City - 1:0
Week 20:
Aston Villa 2:1 Swansea - 0:2
Blackburn 2:1 Stoke - 1:2
QPR 2:1 Norwich - 1:2
Wolves 2:1 Chelsea - 1:2
Fulham 2:1 Arsenal - 2:1
Tottenham 2:0 West Brom - 1:0
Wigan 1:1 Sunderland - 1:4
Man City 3:2 Liverpool - 3:0
Everton 2:1 Bolton - 1:2
Newcastle 1:4 Man Utd - 3:0

In case you are wondering about the chain of 2:1 predictions I made, that was when I was at my parents' and forgot to predict, hence the auto-predictor put all predictions 2:1. Told ye USELESS! ;-P

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Gerrard hits the spot at City

Sports - Football - Carling Cup - Semi-Final - 1st Leg

Man City 0:1 Liverpool

Liverpool take a one-goal advantage to the second leg at Anfield after beating Manchester City 1-0 in the first leg of the Carling Cup semi-final at the Etihad stadium.

Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard

It was a game of two halves with Liverpool displaying a much more confident, professional and productive performance, much in contrast to their absent-minded 3-0 defeat to City in the Premier League only eight days earlier, again without their controversial main man Luis Suarez.

City on the other hand offered a much more shakey, on-and-off performance, with four forced changes since their last meeting, Vincent Kompany sudpended and David Silva injured, whilst both Kolo ande Yaya Toure are out on international duty with the Ivory Coast at the African Cup of Nations.

Their back line was kept under pressure constantly early on by Liverpool and with Kompany missing, goalkeeper Joe Hart was kept busy and produced good saves against Andy Carroll, Steven Gerrard and Stewart Downing.

Liverpool defender Glen JohnsonOnly 11 minutes into the game, Stefan Savic brought down Daniel Agger in the box conceding a penalty with a high, risky tackle on the knee. Gerrard netted the spot kick, Hart guessing right but JUST missing the ball to give Liverpool a well deserved 1-0 lead.

The rest of the half, Liverpool kept dominating, City and Mario Balotelli especially getting more and more frustrated. The home side looked stronger after Samir Nasri came on, the midfield keeping and creating more of the ball.

But Liverpool kept the ball well, dominated possession and chances. They will have felt disappointed that they did not take a bigger lead into the break, having the edge over City.

The second half, City finally came out their shakey shell more, with Liverpool withdrawing more and more, keeping a solid back line.

The best chance came when Martin Kelly's bad backpass found Sergio Aguero in front of goal. But Pepe Reina did well, making himself big, spreading out, coming close and putting good pressure on Aguero, for his shot to go high.

That summarised the day for City, they got closer and closer in the second half, but still nowhere near scoring with Aguero and substitute Aleksandar Kolarov painting the most frustrated picture missing plenty of chances and wasting a lot late on.

Kenny Dalglish can be proud of the improved performance of his side, especially the back line, although Glen Johnson had a mixed display and was caught in controversy late on for his two-footed tackle on Joleon Lescott, although it looked like he did not catch him with both and got the ball. At the front, Carroll left a lot to wish for once again with a below-par performance.

Roberto Mancini was not happy, understandably so, although his half-time talk and changes did make a difference. We will see if he can and whether he will make THE difference in the second leg, because no one on the pitch in the first leg looked like they could. Advantage Liverpool.

Manchester City: Hart; Richards (c), Savic, Lescott, Clichy; Milner, De Jong (Kolarov 72), Barry, Adam Johnson (Dzeko 66), Balotelli (Nasri 39, booked 86); Aguero. 4-5-1
Subs not used: Pantilimon, Zabaletta, Hargreaves, Onuoha.

Liverpool: Reina; Kelly, Skrtel, Agger, Glen Johnson; Downing (José Enrique 60), Henderson, Gerrard, Spearing (Adam 23), Bellamy (Carragher 80, booked 86); Carroll. 4-5-1
Subs not used: Doni, Coates, Kuyt, Shelvey.

Referee: Lee Mason (Lancashire)
Man of the match: Steven Gerrard

Match stats:
Man City-Liverpool
1st & 2nd half
Attempts: 4-6 & 8-0
On target: 1-5 & 1-0
Offsides: 0-1 & 2-0
Corners: 1-1 & 3-0
Free kicks: 5-5 & 6-5
Posession: 50%-50% after 30min, 47%-53% 1st half; 65%-35% 2nd half up to 78.min, 58%-42% FT

Full Match Summary:

1st half:
  • City k.o.
  • 5. Carroll denied by Hart, Balotelli stopped by Skrtel on the other end.
  • 10. Good save by Hart again, this G.'s shot sneaking in on the right. Downing flicks one in off corner, great save again by Heart.
  • 11. Penalty! Agger down! Savic catches him on the knee, high, risky tackle. G. to take the spot-kick.
  • 12:17 G. nets it to Hart's right, outstanding penalty, gk got the side right JUST missing it. 0-1.
  • 14. Lpool continue storm forward, G.'s shot deflected, Hart catches it preventing corner.
  • 16. Aguero's left footer from edge of the box goes high & wide. 1st attempt for home side.
  • 22. Spearing down with hamstring, Adam comes on for him.
  • 26. Ground's gone quiet, not sold out btw.
  • 29. Poor giveaway by Carroll, glad to see Richards lose it. Adam brings down Balotelli has a tantrum after Adam tapped him on his head passing by. Fk to City.
  • 30. Balotelli's fk blocked.
  • 33. Fk from the right by Johnson, Kelly heads it away. Adam goes down dramatically for a fk.
  • 35. Balotelli takes down Johnson, bad lunge, seems off his game, like the whole City side so far. Kelly cross from right into the box, Carroll getting in front of Savic but heads it wide.
  • 38. Milner brought down by G., fk, eventually goes out wide.
  • 39. Balotelli off, Nasri on. The controversial forward goes straight down the tunnel, looked off, maybe injured, definitely not on the ball!
  • 41. City making a meal of getting the ball away, looks wet & slippery out there, not nice.
  • 43. G. stops Aguero from left. Nasri shot cleared by Reina, the shot from the wide right bounced just in front if him, took a bit away from the shot, advantage for the Spanish gk.
  • 44. City seeing more of the ball with the extra man in midfield.
  • 45. Milner puts one high on the edge of the backs after Richards fine break & cross from the right, blew Glen Johnson away.
  • 46. 3 minutes added on. Adam down. Looked like Savic got him.
  • 48. City's 1st corner of the match off big deflection. Johnson good & strong in box, Skrtel bad outside, gives ball away, fk for City conceded by G. Johnson takes it, curls it high & wide, last kick of the game. HT: 0-1

City looked stronger after changes, midfield kept & created more of the ball. Apart from that, all Liverpool, kept the ball well, dominated possession & chances, they'll feel disappointed that they are not further ahead. So far, Reds have the edge, City look like they still have to get on the pitch & in the game.

2nd half:
  • Lpool k.o. 2nd half.
  • 46. Early corner for City, looking for a quick come back in the 2nd half, comes to nothing.
  • 51. City keeping possession, containing the ball, trying to create chances but are kept out the box well & solid by Lpool. Adam does well taking ball to the corner & deflecting it out for a gk.
  • 54. Aguero comes forward, kicks ball too far for Skrtel able to intervene & put the ball out for a corner. Reina catches corner, distribution leads on to Liverpool attack, the game speeding up, crowd waking up.
  • 56. Kelly mistake, backpass taken by Aguero, his shot goes high, good pressure by Pepe. Lpool starting to show cracks. José Enrique is getting ready on the side line. Fb on, winger off, looked like Downing's nr will be up.
  • 59. Barry drives one up from left, out for a corner. Richards leaping header blocked & stopped brilliantly by Reina.
  • 60. Downing off, José Enrique on for Lpool.
  • 65. Bellamy loses out ball to Barry, City on counter, 15 takes shot, looks like he slipped slightly, not a strong shot, easy save for Reina.
  • 66. Adam Johnson off, Dzeko on for City.
  • 68. Fine Clichy cross from left, no one in the box to take the chance. Aguero on next attack, great tackle by Glen Johnson on the edge of the box. Bellamy attach stopped by Richards, City counter deflected, end-to-end stuff here. Much more positive by City.
  • 70. Nasri past Glen Johnson, but too high.
  • 72. De Jong off, Kolarov on for City.
  • 73. Kolarov puts free kick wide from right, nowhere near anyone. G. got instructions from King Kenny to move Kelly & Henderson forward, more attacking.
  • 76. Kolarov cross from left, easy take for Reina.
  • 77. Kolarov speculative again, takes shot from far left, high, nowhere near again. Was good forward attack run by Richards.
  • 79. Barry loses out to Reina.
  • 80. Bellamy off, Carragher on, Lpool going over-defensive, wanting to keep hold of the lead at the Etihad stadium.
  • 82. Milner shot drags wide, no real pressure or power on it.
  • 85. Adam cross from right blocked out for a corner by Agger. Kolarov wastes corner high & wide AGAIN!
  • 86. Nasri on Carragher, little push-about by both side, Kolarov getting involved, first booking of the night goes to Nasri, second to Carragher, good refereeing.
  • 88. Aguero shot blocked by Kelly. Through all their possession City looked less likely of scoring. YNWA echoes through the ground.
  • 90. 3 minutes added on. Adam gives away a fk on the right. Aguero heads it JUST over the cross bar.
  • 92. Henderson concedes fk, looks like he got the ball. Milner puts it in the box, Carroll heads it out, packed box, Johnson got ball off Lescott with both feet, similar to Kompany's s.o., got less of the player though. FT: 0-1

Liverpool take a one-goal advantage to the second leg at Anfield after a professional, productive performance, decisive in the end in comparison to City's shakey, on-and-off performance (off 1st half, more on it 2nd half, but still nowhere near).

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Ten-man City ease past Liverpool

Sports - Football - Premier League - Man City 3:0 Liverpool

Manchester City comfortably kept their unbeaten run at home with a 3-0 beating of Liverpool at the Etihad stadium and recovered well from their shock defeat at Sunderland which was just around 48 hours ago.

Sergio Aguero (left) celebrates after scoring against Liverpool

Although, as always, there were questionable decisions by referee Andre Marriner, there is no doubt over who outplayed whom with Liverpool all huff and puff but no quality as BBC's Tom Rostance summarized the performance accordingly.

Each time when it looked like they were gaining in momentum, the Reds slipped up and lost it again. First Pepe Reina, of all people, let Sergio Aguero's shot drop under him for the opening goal, the Spaniard not happy understandably.

Then, when Liverpool had gained advantage in possession, territory and pressure again, Yaya Toure headed in a City corner, past Reina and the two defenders Jose Enrique and Charlie Adam, easily beating Glen Johnson by a couple of inches.

Yaya Toure (second left) scores for Manchester City

Gareth Barry's 450th Premier League appearance was nothing to shout about, apart from a couple of harsh decision which went against him. The England midfielder saw his first booking for bringing down Jay Spearing who looked like he made the most of the brush past just before half time.

Then in the second half, after Kenny Dalglish had rang in the changes bringing on Steven Gerrard and Craig Bellamy for below par Adam and Dirk Kuyt, Liverpool started to speed and heat up the match more.

A minute of madness followed just over halfway through the second half: Barry was sent off, booked the second time for a push on Daniel Agger. Harsh again, as it looked neither here nor there between the two, although he was warned off shortly before that after a tackle on Gerrard.

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard
But instead of taking advantage of the referee's decision and the extra man, Liverpool's Enrique gave away the resulting free kick very cheaply for City to break out onto a counter attack and Yaya Toure to win a penalty after being brought down by Martin Skrtel. It looked like a very soft touch, another harsh decision by Marriner, but James Milner netted it cooly to the right, sending Reina the wrong way, to seal the match, result and three points, 3-0 to City.

Liverpool tried and tried, but never got very far, no matter how much possession and time they had on the ball. Andy Carrol was useless and nowhere to be seen apart from a couple of misses as always. Stewart Downing and Enrique produced the only sparks of hope with some fine breaks and crosses, as Bellamy did later, too.

But, whether it was because Luis Suarez was missing, after starting his eight-match ban for racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra, or because of the bad weather (it was absolutely pouring it down turning the football pitch into a water glide), Liverpool never looked like they were getting close.

Yaya Toure scores Manchester City's second goal

And City did not have to make much of an effort to grab the win, it just looked too easy! Although man of the match Vincent Kompany's outstanding performance at the back needs to be noted. He kept the little Liverpool resistence there was at bay superbly and gave them no chance whatsoever of a comeback. They are now three points clear at the top ahead of local rivals United.

King Kenny hit the spot in response to Liverpool's performance: "If you want to be successful you have to be clinical, and that's what was missing tonight from ourselves. We worked hard and passed it well, but if you're not clinical you won't progress."

Man City: Hart; Richards, Kompany, Kolo Toure, Clichy; Yaya Toure (scored 32:30), Barry (booked 45. s.o. 73), Aguero (scored 9:53; Johnson 72), Silva (Lescott 76), Milner (scored penalty 74:13), Dzeko.
Subs not used: Pantiliman, Zabaleta, Kolarov, Savic, De Jong.

Liverpool: Reina; Johnson (booked 56), Agger, Skrtel, Jose Enrique; Adam (Gerrard 57), Kuyt (Bellamy 57), Henderson, Spearing (Rodriguez 76), Downing, Carroll.
Subs not used: Doni, Carragher, Shelvey, Kelly.

1st & 2nd half stats: Man City-Liverpool
Attempts: 7:7 & 2:6
On target: 6:4 & 1:2
Offsides: 0:0 & 0:0
Corners: 5:2 & 0:4
Free kicks: 4:6 & 3:6
BBC: 51%-49% & 50%-50%
Sky Sports: 45%-55% & 26.6%-73.4% (!!!)

Further Sky Sports stats: Man City-Liverpool
Passing Success: 77.3%-86.2%
Tackles/Success: 19/68.4%-17/82.4%
Territorial Advantage: 42.1%-57.9% (!!! again)
Action Areas: Man City 43%-44%-13% Liverpool (!!! last time)

Referee: Andre Marriner (West Midlands)
Man of the match: Vincent Kompany