Featured

England’s Euro 2016 – Goalkeepers and Defenders

In my first entry, in what seems like forever, I am going to have a closer look at the England goalkeepers and defenders who should be on the plane with Roy Hodgson and his back room staff in June, when the England squad fly to France for the 2016 European Championships.

This years Premier League has arguably been the most open and exciting season in recent history. Who’d have though that Leicester City would be top with 6 games left? There is a distinct possibility that three of the biggest British clubs in Newcastle, Sunderland and Aston Villa will be playing in the second tier for the 2016/17 season.

The unpredictability of this season has allowed a lot of players throw their name into the hat for France when in previous seasons it would be the usual top 4 with a few names in there because they have “experience”.  Personally, I understand the “experience” aspect when approaching major tournaments, which is why some players I have included (and left out!) may be a surprise to some.

Goalkeepers

Joe Hart, Fraser Forster and Tom Heaton

Joe Hart hasn’t been as consistent as perhaps he has in previous seasons. Replaced by Manchester City number two Willy Cabellero mid-way through the season showed that Manuel Pellegrini expected more. However, since his comeback and barring a couple of injuries, he is beginning to discover his best form again. There is no doubt he’s England most obvious choice to start against Russia on June 11th.

Before the injury to Jack Butland during the England vs Germany game, I believe he was a serious rival to Joe Hart for the number one jersey.

Luckily, England’s strength in depth is evident and Southampton’s Fraser Forster is a more than adequate back up and since his return from injury, he has only conceded 9 goals in 12 games, with a clean sheet in half of those.

The third goalkeeper I would choose is Burnley’s Tom Heaton, although he has played the season leading up to the Euros in the Championship, it is clear to see that he is Premier League standard. His 16 clean sheets thus far in Burnley’s push to bounce back from relegation emphasise his quality and his deserving place in the squad.

Defenders

Nathaniel Clyne, Danny Rose, Kyle Walker, John Stones, Gary Cahill, Chris Smalling, Phil Jagielka

These defenders probably pick themselves. Had Leighton Baines and Luke Shaw not been injured for the majority of the season, there maybe could have been cases made for them due to Baines’ experience and Luke Shaw’s positive start before a nasty broken leg against PSV.

Nathaniel Clyne and Danny Rose have got to be first choice for me. Liverpool’s Clyne has been a bright spark in a rather flat and disjointed Liverpool side going through transition under Jurgen Klopp. Clyne, the former Southampton full back, seems to have the balance between going forward and staying back just right and with nearly 250 domestic league games under his belt at just 25, he has experience and age on his side.

Tottenham’s Danny Rose had a bright start to his Tottenham career (we all remember that goal against Arsenal, right?), further experience gained on loan at Bristol City and Sunderland allowed him to cement his spot in Tottenham’s first team. He has played 19 games so far this season and with just the one defensive error leading to a goal, it is clear that he has had a huge impact of getting his North London team to second in the Premier League.

With my choice of centre backs, I have gone for a mix of youth and experience. John Stones, if you believe the pundits, is destined for the very top and I have to agree. I believe his and Chris Smalling’s attributes complement each other very well and it’s clear they shall be England’s central defensive partnership for years to come.

Has this tournament come slightly too soon though? We saw in the Holland match at Wembey, Stones made an error which nearly led to a goal which surely put doubts in Roy Hodgson mind. That’s where Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka come in. Cahill has had so much success at club level with Chelsea that it would be silly not to consider him, plus over 40 England caps shows he has what it takes to compete at the highest level. Everton talisman Phil Jagielka is, in my view, will be more useful at Euro 2016 in a mentoring capacity. Jagielka will turn 34 in August and his best days are clearly behind him, however he has played in and prepared for major tournaments. He will be able to motivate the younger members of the squad and could be a vital addition to Roy Hodgson’s squad if used correctly.

 

Marko Grujic – Liverpool’s New Gerrard?

Marko Grujic’s name didn’t ring any bells to a lot of Liverpool fans when Jurgen Klopp splashed £5.1 million to make him his first signing as boss of the Merseyside club. Yet, six months later the Serbian has already become a popular talking point on social media.

The signing was confirmed in January, however, as part of the deal it was agreed that then 19 year old Grujic would spend the remainder of the season at his boyhood club, Red Star Belgrade. It was a move that seems to have paid dividends with Grujic finishing the season with twenty-nine appearances, contributing with six goals and seven assists, as he was named in the SuperLiga team of the season as his team went on to lift the league title.

Along with a move to Premier League Liverpool, 2016 was the year in which Grujic made his debut for the Serbian national side, making his debut in May, replacing Nemanja Matic in a friendly win over Cyprus. This came after he was part of the Serbia squad which won the Under 20 World Cup in New Zealand the previous year.

He has been compared to some well established players including Yaya Toure and fellow international team mate Nemanja Matic. High praise indeed, but something that should probably be taken with a pinch of salt given the hype surrounding some previous Liverpool signings. Remember Bruno Cheyrou? Gerard Houllier compared him to footballing great Zinedine Zidane as he signed for the Reds in 2002. Four years later with just two league goals in thirty-one games and two less than successful loan spells, the “next Zidane” was shipped out to Rennes.

However, there’s reason to be positive about this new signing despite his relatively low reputation. Manager Jurgen Klopp has a knack of signing young talent that he can nurture and develop himself.

Think back to Robert Lewandowski at Borussia Dortmund, a £4 million signing from Lech Poznan when he was just 21 years of age. He went on to have a better than 1 in 2 strike rate during his time at Signal Iduna Park and BVB made a huge profit as he moved to rivals Bayern Munich in 2014.

Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan and Shinji Kagawa are all names who were relatively obscure to the armchair football fan when Klopp first brought them to Dortmund, he then went on to turn them into household names. What’s more impressive is that all three players were signed for a combined £7 million and were all 21 years old or under.

Grujic seems to have his heart set on establishing himself in the Liverpool first team and he started in the best possible way making a good first impression in a 45 minute cameo against Fleetwood Town, winning a penalty and scoring the opener as Liverpool went on to record a convincing 5-0 win.

However, with Emre Can, Jordan Henderson and James Milner to name just a few vying for a position in the centre of Klopp’s high intensity midfield, Grujic will have to work hard to impress Liverpool management.

The upcoming season will clearly pose bigger tests to Grujic than a trip to Fleetwood but it’s promising signs from someone fans have waiting over half a year to see in their team. Maybe Liverpool do have a wonderkid on their hands after all.

 

Dejan Lovren: One Last Chance?

Looks like Lovren has saved his season!

Just Another Sporting Blog...

After a quite frankly nightmare season for Croatia and Liverpool central defender, Dejan Lovren, I take a look at whether or not this next season is his last chance to establish himself at the heart of Liverpool’s defence.

Joining just over a year ago, after long, drawn out negotiations between Liverpool and Southampton, Dejan Lovren moved to Anfield for a mere £20 million. Admittedly, he didn’t have any say on the transfer fee but ever since the South Coast club commanded such a large fee, it is clear that Lovren would find himself under immediate pressure to hit the ground running.

Things started off well for the former Lyon man, scoring the second goal in a comprehensive 4-0 victory over German giants Borussia Dortmund, albeit in a pre-season friendly. The following week, he helped his new club beat his old club, Southampton on the opening weekend of the Premier League season and although…

View original post 541 more words

Young Reds Squander Half Time Lead In Mini Derby

Liverpool’s Under 21’s and Everton’s Under 21’s played out an enthralling encounter in the first Merseyside derby of the season tonight at Southport’s Merseyrail Community Stadium.

Two of the faces in the starting line up which may be more familiar to Reds fans were Tiago Illori and Joao Carlos Teixeira as they looked to build up their match fitness in a bid to push for a sport in Brendan Rodgers’ starting eleven. Under 21 regulars such as Harry Wilson, Jordan Rossiter and Cameron Brannagan also played.

Liverpool started brightly and were duly reward as Harry Wilson’s clever first touch forced a mistake out of Mason Holgate as he dragged the young Welshman down, although replays showed that the foul clearly started outside the penalty area. Never the less, Wilson got up and neatly slotted away the spot kick, sending the Everton keeper, Mateusz Hewelt the wrong way.

Liverpool continued to control the game and some good pressing without the ball led to an Everton mistake. Teixeira picked the ball up and hammered a shot into the bottom corner from all of twenty yards, not a bad impression to make in front of Liverpool first-team development coach Pepijn Lijnders who was in attendance, along with Spanish first team squad players Jose Enrique and Alberto Moreno.

The young Reds were cruising and could have added to their lead as Jordan Rossiter found striker Jack Dunn with a great cross, but the Scouser was unfortunately denied by the post.

Everton were under immense pressure as the first half entered the final quarter and their task got made even harder when an unmarked Sergi Canos made it 3-0. Reds centre back Dan Cleary had a header cleared off the line but from the resulting second ball Cleary managed to find Canos who guided it past the goalkeeper.

The Toffees then experienced their best spell in the game as the first half drew to a close. Mason Holgate had a fantastic effort from 25 yards, forcing Liverpool goal keeper Ryan Fulton into a full length, one handed save. Then from the resulting corner, Fulton again made a good save from point blank range. A goal was coming, Liverpool were hoping for the half time whistle.

It didn’t come in time. On the stroke of half time, a poor pass from Liverpool left back Joe Maguire gifted Everton captain Joe Williams the ball 30 yards out. His shot deflected off Cleary and beat Fulton as Liverpool found themselves going into the interval with a 3-1 lead.

Everton Under 21 coach David Unsworth changed the Toffee’s formation as the teams came out from the half time interval, opting to change to three at the back with two wing backs to try and cut the deficit and create more chances. At first it looked as though the change was to no avail, Liverpool had picked up where they left off. Teixeira’s corner hit the post, leaving the keeper out of position, however he managed to recover well to keep out Jack Dunn’s effort.

Any derby, no matter what age, wouldn’t be complete without a scuffle. A late challenge from Tom Davies on Dan Cleary prompted Cleary to react and resulted in him having to be dragged away by his team mates.

The change in Everton’s formation was now much more evident, they were spending a lot more time in Liverpool’s half than they had in the first half and nearly reaped the reward as a drilled cross from Everton wing back Gethin Jones was headed over by Sam Byrne.

However, that miss wouldn’t haunt Everton as moments later they did get their second goal, Everton number eleven Conor McAleny was given too much time on the edge of the Liverpool area and managed to get his shot past Fulton. A nervous 25 minutes ensued for the Reds.

With over one hundred scouts in attendance, the young players were hoping to get noticed in the hope of a potential loan move. Everton managed to counter quickly and a low cross from Gethin Jones, Everton’s brightest player, found 16 year old Shayne Lavery but his attempt was straight at Fulton.

Then in the 84th minute after sustained pressure, Liverpool conceded. Everton centre back, Matthew Pennington had a tame effort which Fulton fumbled after it bounced awkwardly in front of him and Tom Davies was able to lift the ball over him.

Liverpool pushed for a late winner with Harry Wilson beating two men inside the Everton area but a last ditch block from a defender kept his goal bound shot out.

Neither side could nick a winner as the match finished 3-3. Probably a fair result given Everton’s second half performance, but the Reds will be disappointed after their dominant first half display.

Mario Balotelli’s Liverpool Nightmare

Signed from former Italian giants AC Milan, Balotelli joined up with his Merseyside friends towards the end of the 2014 summer transfer window for a mere £16 million and many fans thought they had got a bargain.

But twenty eight competitive games later and just four goals to his name, it looks like the Italian’s time at Anfield is over.

Ever since supposedly asking Brendan Rodgers when his press conference was, I had doubts over whether it was the kind of player I’d want to play for Liverpool, straight away he was more interested in himself than he was the team.

However, things started off well for the former Manchester City man. Making his debut away at Tottenham Hotspur, he looked bright and probably should have scored in a 3-0 victory. Liverpool fans were perhaps beginning to believe that this could be the place he could live up to his reputation and finally get rid of the “on his day” tag.

Balotelli then opened his account for Liverpool with a vital goal against Ludogorets in the Champions League, but since then he has failed to contribute on the pitch.

During a Champions League game against Real Madrid with Liverpool trailing 3-0 at half time, Balotelli proceeded to swap shirts with Madrid defender Pepe as the two teams made their way off the field. A move branded “disgraceful” by former legend Phil Thompson.

Further on field controversies included Balotelli appearing to take the ball from vice-captain Jordan Henderson when Liverpool were awarded a penalty against Besiktas. Balotelli scored the spot kick, but was a target for criticism from players and pundits alike.

Perhaps he was made a scapegoat for Liverpool’s poor season, but if Brendan Rodgers, a man famed for his man management capabilities can’t tame Balotelli then it begs the question is it the managers fault?

Recent tabloids suggest that a move back to Italy is the most likely destination for the controversial striker with Sampdoria being a team constantly linked with a move and I don’t think too many Liverpool fans would be sad to see the back of the troublesome Italian.

There’s no doubting he’s a great footballer. A fantastic player to have on set-pieces, particularly penalties. The ability to score the different types of goals he has done, prove he isn’t a bad player. He’s played at some of the biggest teams in Europe but his other antics far outweigh his worth to the team.

Has he blown his last chance at a top club?

Are Liverpool Right To Let Lucas Leiva Leave?

After Liverpool started their 2015/16 campaign on Sunday with victory away at Stoke,  reports started to filter through on social media that long serving centre midfielder Lucas Leiva had fallen out with Liverpool staff and is expected to depart before the transfer window shuts.

Personally, I was gutted after seeing the news. I think he does a really important job in Brendan Rodgers’ team that a lot of people don’t see, breaking up play and doing the things that goes unnoticed without the credit he probably deserves.

Since joining from Brazilian club Gremio in 2007 it’s fair to say it took the fans a few years to warm to him. During a 0-0 draw against Fulham back in 2008 a group of fans even took to booing him, very harsh for a 21 year old boy in a new country. Perhaps joining for a fee of £7 million after captaining Brazil Under 20’s, lead to fans expecting too much too soon and put unnecessary pressure on him. Either way, he certainly didn’t let it get to him as his performances went from strength  to strength.

After Xabi Alonso left Merseyside for Madrid, Lucas found his playing time in then manager, Rafa Benitez’s team increase. Even the £18 million signing Alberto Aquilani couldn’t budge Lucas from the starting line up. He was still struggling to win over the fans, however.

It wasn’t until 2010/11 when Lucas started being one of the first names on a fans team sheet and a solid campaign saw him win Liverpool’s Player of the Year Award. Unfortunately, midway through the following season he suffered an anterior cruciate injury during a League Cup quarter final against Chelsea. This made him miss the rest of the season. But all was not lost.

Brendan Rodgers took over at Liverpool following Kenny Dalglish’s sacking in June 2012 and was positive about the prospect of having Lucas back fit stating:

“He is going to be a brilliant player for me in my career here at Liverpool and I’m looking forward to seeing him fully fit.” 

Injuries have often stopped the now 28 year old from getting a regular run of games, which is probably one of the reasons Liverpool are willing to listen to offers. At 28, he still has market value, around £8 million if you believe the papers. A lot more than what the club would receive in another two years.

The signings of Joe Allen, Emre Can and now, James Milner have seen him drop down the pecking order. However, it is interesting to point out that under Rodgers, Liverpool gain around 0.3 points more when Lucas is in the team as opposed to when he is missing.

Personally, I’ll be sad to see him go (if he goes), even now, I don’t believe we have a better defensive midfielder and he knows what it means to play for the club.

Rumours are linking him with a move to Italy, with Napoli and Inter Milan reported to have enquired about his availability. A slower league in Serie A will probably see him continue to be a great performer as, if he keeps the injuries at bay he has another 5 years at top level in him.

Whatever has happened in terms of the falling out, I hope they can come to some civil agreement, hopefully he plays his way back into Rodgers’ plans because I think he’s a vital in protecting a very inconsistent back four.

Dejan Lovren: One Last Chance?

After a quite frankly nightmare season for Croatia and Liverpool central defender, Dejan Lovren, I take a look at whether or not this next season is his last chance to establish himself at the heart of Liverpool’s defence.

Joining just over a year ago, after long, drawn out negotiations between Liverpool and Southampton, Dejan Lovren moved to Anfield for a mere £20 million. Admittedly, he didn’t have any say on the transfer fee but ever since the South Coast club commanded such a large fee, it is clear that Lovren would find himself under immediate pressure to hit the ground running.

Things started off well for the former Lyon man, scoring the second goal in a comprehensive 4-0 victory over German giants Borussia Dortmund, albeit in a pre-season friendly. The following week, he helped his new club beat his old club, Southampton on the opening weekend of the Premier League season and although he experienced other better moments, including scoring the winner against Swansea in the League Cup Fourth Round, his first season on Merseyside will go down with the vast majority of Liverpool fans as a disappointment.

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers persisted with him throughout the season, often favouring him instead of opting with fans favourite Mamadou Sakho. However, this persistence from the Northern Irish man failed to pay off. According to Squawka, Lovren made six defensive errors throughout the season with two of those leading to goals, the most of any outfield player in the division. Having said this, all six of his defensive errors came in his first 15 games (he made 26 league appearances in total), so his second half of the season was clearly better for the Croatian even if he did only feature sparsely.

Lovren’s form (or lack of), saw him dropped after a 3-1 defeat away to Crystal Palace and for the remainder of the season he found himself very much on the outside looking in as young German midfielder, Emre Can who arrived from Bayer Leverkusen was then thrust into the back three such was the frailties with Lovren there. Initially brought in to solve Liverpool’s defensive problems, he could only look on as Liverpool put together a good run at the beginning of 2015 giving them a shot getting into the Champions League qualification spots. He must have been wondering whether his chance to establish himself at one of Europe’s elite had gone.

As mentioned previously, many see Mamadou Sakho as the man to partner the established Slovakian Martin Skrtel. Stats show that the Frenchman had a better passing accuracy throughout the season (90% of his passes were successful, compared to Lovren’s 85%). Numbers also show that Sakho was more defensively sound, he won 21 tackles only 14 less than Lovren, despite playing ten less games in the Premier League. Lovren also, rather tragically, lost 45 tackles, with Sakho only losing 19. The vast majority of the figures, whichever way you look at it, suggest that Mamadou Sakho is much more assured choice.

Lovren undeniably had a poor season, however, I personally believe he was made out as a scapegoat for Liverpool’s poor season. Liverpool created 53 fewer chances over the course of the 2014/15 season when compared to the previous one, clearly not something where Lovren can be blamed. Couple this with the fact Daniel Sturridge only appeared in 12 league games and Brendan Rodgers’ inability to find a formation which suited the players at his disposal, it makes Dejan Lovren’s errors all the more costly.

In summary, it’s clear that Lovren has to improve. Even in the pre-season friendlies leading into the upcoming season, he hasn’t looked like a big money signing ready to take his chance. Seemingly low on confidence and struggling to cope with the expectation, many fans on social media believe it’s already a lost cause. Of course, all this is happening whilst Sakho has given a number of solid displays in pre-season, looking competent and assured. Perhaps Brendan Rodgers sees it as a new start for both him and Lovren given the shocking end Liverpool had to the 2014/15 season. Either way, Dejan Lovren simply has to perform this season.

England Back On Top In Yo-Yo Series

This afternoon, England strolled to victory at Edgbaston in the Third Investec Ashes Test Match against Australia. It was a much needed victory after the quite frankly embarrassing result at Lord’s, a 405 run loss. Going into the game on Wednesday, I can’t have been the only person worrying about what might happen to England over the course of the next few days.

My nerves were eased as I watch the first days play unfold. The Aussies capitulated. Only Chris Rogers was able to put up some kind of resistance, managing 52 whilst the middle order collapsed around him. Jimmy Anderson was the pick of the England bowlers taking 6-47 but Steven Finn got the Australian captain Michael Clarke and the danger man before the series began in Steve Smith, his first test wickets for two years.

England needed to post a decent score in their first innings and although Adam Lyth went early, Ian Bell and Joe Root both hit half centuries and with Moeen Ali and Stuart Broad chipping in with runs (59 and 31 respectively), England managed to get 281, a lead of 145.

In their second innings, Australia again struggled, only David Warner managed to provide any kind of defiance, scoring 77 from just 62 balls. Steven Finn tore through the Australian Middle order bowling a fantastic spell on the second day, he eventually finished with 6-79. The Aussie tail did stick around however, wicket keeper Peter Nevill and Mitchell Starc both hitting half centuries to end on 265 all out, meaning England needed 121 for victory. The only negative was the news that England’s all time leading wicket taker James Anderson left the field and has being ruled out of the Fourth Test at Trent Bridge with a suspected tear in his side. Doubts must also be there as to whether he will play in the final test at The Oval.

England lost both openers cheaply in their pursuit of victory, with Lyth and Cook making just 12 and 7 which may have left a few pessimists doubting England, but experienced batsman Ian Bell, playing at his home ground and Yorkshire’s Joe Root managed to see England home inside three days both finishing unbeaten with Bell scoring 65 and Joe Root 38. It was a timely return to form for Ian Bell who was under pressure after struggling to score in the previous tests.

The teams now move on to Nottingham and Trent Bridge which gets under way in five days time and England know that victory there will see them regain The Ashes.