Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday mind-set: Fire in the belly, but with a cool head

Hey, Match Pricks readers, remember this little ditty from Wednesday? That was fun. It's always great to immediately fire off your thoughts on a depressing outcome for Liverpool 45 minutes after the match ends and when you've spent that brief interim stewing over everything by yourself during an afternoon commute to your job in the suburbs. It really gets the bile up, you know? Helps churn out all the really hateful, reactionary filth.

But while I'd like to change several things about the post (mostly just OCD-type writer-ly stuff about its style and structure), the overall meaning and tone is still with me. Which brings me to my point here ...

... I can't possibly be the most hate-filled Liverpool supporter out there. But most of the post-Wigan analysis I've seen has either been denial ("There's 15 matches left; it's only January!"), loyal defiance ("Liverpool till I die!") or unreasonably calm analysis ("Well, you see, Gerrard and Torres were tired. And they would have made it. Rafa can't strategize for Lucas losing his head on the penalty.")

F**k that. Man, now's the time to be pissed off. Yeah, I've moved on from lobbying for a pile of Kazakh-based goat shit to replace Rafa, but it's just an entirely different Liverpool world we all inhabit right now. Instead of worrying about United and trying to keep pace at the top of the table, there's now three scenarios for the team:

1. Beat Chelsea on Sunday and hope that can be some kind of springboard back into the race.
2. Draw with Chelsea on Sunday and possibly watch Villa move past LFC into 3rd; high anxiety ensues.
3. Lose to Chelsea on Sunday, watch Villa fly past LFC into third and prepare for supporters to start jumping off of buildings.

The best-case scenario involves taking 3 points and hoping it's a springboard to better things. The second option is horrible to think about, and the third option is full-on crisis mode where Liverpool starts having to think about what it's going to take to ensure they finish in a Champions League slot. How quickly things can change.

However, it's the weekend and time to detach ourselves from a lot of concerns. This video only works if you can blare those speakers or plug in some earbuds and roll around in the noise. I've not entirely given up the fight, no matter how bleak and unhinged I've appeard this week, so let's get into this (action kicks in at 30-second mark) and figure out how Sunday is going to work:

Van Persie's got Arsenal holding on

The man, at 25, is showing himself. Depending on how this rough season ends, we may need a tribute to him.

Thanks to Gunnerblog for providing the link to the goal against Everton on Wednesday.

Here it is.  Remarkably well taken after he slips off of the shoulder of the defender and quickly lashed into the net. Note that he didn't pull it back and try to chip, he didn't look for another man, he didn't try to slide it by Tim Howard. He simply used the cunning of a great striker, the touch of a great striker, and the will to score of a great striker.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

I'm tired.

Of a lot of things at the moment. Mmmm (that's not the "mmm" of something tasty, no, it's the "mmm" of acceptance). Go ahead and hit play while you read this to let it all soak in, skip ahead about a minute.

This season is wearing on me in ways I wouldn't have ever imagined. It's an interesting difference of an emotional climb/descent from that of my partner over here, Jim and Liverpool. The Reds were rolling early and were - ever so cautiously - primed, confident and ready to pounce whenever necessary. They were taking, it has seemed, carefully measured steps toward a title. Yet that long, long walk is FAR from over - in spite of the convulsions that each of their supporters is feeling at the moment. And there's definitely a heavier significance to their title chase then, say, Arsenal's last year. It'd be exponentially more painful than the Gunners' collapse in the 2008. Just ask. Not to speak for them, but ... each dropped point, each poor substitution, each confounding tactical approach or comment from Rafa (who is losing equity with his base by the second) ... it's a further slip toward insanity. Nerves are being frayed. Brain cells are exploding. And quite assuredly, equilibrium is being lost.

Whereas for myself and the other Arsenal supporters I'm close to ... well we're just dumbfounded at this point. It's not shock, it's not shell-shock, nor is it even the despair and desperation I so consistently expressed earlier in the year. No, at this point, that's flipped from one Match Prick to the other. As you can readily tell from following Jim's week with Liverpool. 

Now, for my part it's plummeted to a numb acceptance. It's like I commented a couple of days ago. Win, loss or draw, it doesn't make a difference right now as there's such a massive gulf of class between where we are and where we should be. And it's dead painful. Note I'm not saying there's a massive gulf of class between the Arsenal and their competition. At the moment, that isn't necessarily true. They're still able to pull a result out of the meekest of performances (Hey! They've got guts and guile to spare! Just look at those last 10 minutes!). They're still able to move the ball ... wait, no, that's not even close to true. The team they've set out on the field is something foreign to me. They are poor. They are not good enough. Draw, after draw, after draw, even with such heroic last second efforts, just not good enough. 

There are starters missing, sure. There are pieces that need to be found or replaced, sure. But all the while, each voice out of the club is speaking as if they've only just put down The Emperor's New Clothes and are just completely taken with it. Each match we get the same platitudes from Arsene Wenger. I love the man, as is well documented. There's not a doubt in the world that he's an utter genius, but Arsene, please ... some of us out here are awfully smart too. And even for those who aren't, you know, I'm fairly certain they're able to pick up on a few things themselves. I've a hunch they too might be able to see these worrying cracks in our team that are getting wider by the second. 

There's just no way that a team featuring the likes of Alex Song, Neves Denilson, Emmanuel Eboue and (sadly, given his "every squirrel can find a nut" form) Abu Diaby is good enough to snare the points. Even toss Adebayor in there with the way he's been coasting through matches at the moment. (Again, Samir Nasri and Robin Van Persie look like our only true threats this year ... where the Arsenal would be without them is a place I can't even consider.)

So, brush aside the poor form. Brush aside Arsene's puppetry in each press conference, interview and every time he steps in front of a microphone. Hey! Have you heard that he's got an unflagging belief in this team and if only we'd give them a chance, if only we'd peer deep enough and close enough we'd see the true sparkle that is just perched to assault the whole of Europe and turn the beautiful game on its ear? Mmmm. Right. (Did you catch that drool of acceptance? Mmm hmm. N.U.M.B. folks.)

Right, brush it all aside ... at least the lads on the pitch can recognize the dramatic trouble we're in. At least they can recognize that it may well be time to panic and get all hands on deck (nowt wrong with a bit of panic every now and again, is there?). Editor's note: I really wanted to come up with a clip or photo of those idiots fiddling away on the decks of the sinking Titanic. No such luck.) Right? At least they can recognize that something is drastically wrong. Right?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

That's it

(WARNING: Colin and I try to consistently run a respectable site here. Normally, I'm apprehensive about the language, but I'm calling for an author's exception on this post and in the comments, if anyone feels like it. Today's events have brought out my Joe Kinnear impression.)

I really shouldn't do this right now but fuck it. Let's go.

Who in their right mind takes Torres out of the game after 70 minutes with a one-goal lead? You're only playing one striker anyway, shithead, and you've got a nervous Nancy in Lucas looking unsure of himself and displaying an atrocious first touch throughout the match. And to compound matters, you bring on Riera for the boy, meaning you now have Babel – with, amazingly, an even worse first touch in the match than Lucas – leading the line. Babel, who had not successfully completed a single one-touch pass or through ball despite numerous opportunities. Babel, whose form over the last few months was so bad he requested a loan move to Ajax. Babel, who has shown nothing at all. You consolidate your efforts with Babel.

You numbnuts piece of shit.

But the topper, the end of the line for me with you, is taking off Gerrard after Wigan equalized. You bring on Keane for Gerrard. You're watching your fading hopes of a chance at the League finally drain away, you've got 10 minutes to regain your respectability and your realistic hopes, and you take off the fucking only man who has kept the team in it over the last month.

A pile of shit dropped by a goat in Kazakhstan has more sense than that, Rafa.

Sure, Gerrard was below his typical standard for most of the afternoon, but suddenly you get a wave of sympathy for Keane and put him on for the captain, the only person wearing a red shirt on Wednesday who has ever shown an ability to rescue a desperate or lost cause?!?!

Get fucked, Benitez. You're done. You had everything in front of you, a team ready to believe, a team ready to sustain it over an entire season, and when the chips were down, when all of it was at stake, when you absolutely needed a response to maintain the pace for the first time in 19 years, your best shot involved Torres and Gerrard on the bench, and a self-doubting Dutch Bible-thumper up front with a willing servant playing off him who you have consistently fucked over all year because you didn't get your way with Rick Parry and the American owners over Gareth Barry.

Fuck you, dick. After Inter blows it in May, somebody call Mourinho. At least that devious prick supports his players.

HALFTIME UPDATE: There’s only one stat that matters – the score

Well, in my preview note below I moaned about Benayoun and Lucas in for Kuyt and The Director, respectively. For a little less than 40 minutes, I was right. Lucas mostly put on a master class in how to pass back to your defenders, and Benayoun had me ready to wring his neck he kept pushing inside from the right so much and clogging things up.

But then, Yossi pulled off the first successful dummy I've seen from Liverpool since Luis Garcia made us all sing his name and half a chance was created. But Benayoun's goal was ridiculous. Mascherano with an outstanding through ball, Yossi somehow rounds the keeper and from almost even with the touchline on the right, he flicks it across and into the far side-netting. I watched the replay a couple times, and I swear it brushed the outside of the near post and still went in. Pretty amazing goal. He must have known I was talking about him.

OK, time to get a second before one of these free-kick forays pays off for Mido.

Jesus H. Christ on a popsicle stick

Benayoun in for Kuyt on the right. Director on the bench, Lucas in his place. Keane deemed worthy to possibly get subbed in late if, you know, Liverpool's behind or even in the final 20 minutes.

This one's for my Battlestar Galactica friends out there: What the frak!!! (spelled right?)

More after the match ...

Happy birthday Jamie Carragher

You're 31 today, you magnificent bastard. Here's to even greater health and continued success.

Well, what'll it be, fellas?

West Bromwich Albion 0 – United 5

Rafa might as well do away with rational thought and his usual, reasoned explanations that the next match is the most important, the team is training hard, the notes he takes during play mean anything, blather, blah, mumble, phooey. It's bad enough Villa and Arsenal are rolling, Chelsea is hanging around and a continued run of mediocre form could conceivably find Liverpool in a month's time in the mix for 4th or – gulp – 5th.

No, his team talk before the match this afternoon at the JJB should consist of him just saying the scoreline at the top here out loud while looking the players in the eye. Just say it aloud to them with no expression on his face. Hold the silence for a beat, let that score linger, and then let the players decide if they're going to be serious about running with their most-hated rival and try to win the League.

Wigan's been sharp this season, but Liverpool is catching them just a few days after Emile Heskey took off for Villa. They've lost a key component of their more-than-expected performance this season. Is Liverpool going to take this game from them today? Is there sufficient desire and ability to execute what's needed, which is to just score in the first 20-25 minutes and then add at least a second before Wigan can reply? I'm not talking about leaving it until late, wasting a bunch of chances and then popping one in after 85 minutes. Just get in there, score and then score again – and, hopefully, again. Play like a team that wants it and isn't starting to fill up with doubt.

Is that going to happen? Chelsea comes to Anfield on Sunday. What position do these players want to be in when they walk out for that match?

Seeking an effective metaphor for Babel and Dossena trying to run the overlap down the left flank: A final word on the double derby

It's three days late, sure, but processing the derby in the Cup from Sunday was more complicated than I thought. Derby day, whenever it is, can be a struggle, at best. The nature of how Liverpool failed to win both matches was particularly grueling, however. After three hours of football, we got this flicker of amazing from Torres to help keep our hopes up.

But in that Cup match on Sunday, what we mostly got was an Everton eager to force the action onto the flanks, where Kuyt and Arbeloa were clumsy and impotent on the right while Babel and Dossena combined along the left to provide conclusive proof why Rafa hardly ever picks them for those roles in the League. Lordy, was it miserable.

At the time, I commented to some friends at the bar that they resembled the famous cartoon magpies Heckle and Jeckle, their combined efforts trying to run the overlap offering only cartoon laughs. Then my good buddy Wikipedia reminded me Heckle and Jeckle often started each adventure appearing hapless, only to outsmart their foes in the end before winding up victorious.

That doesn't describe Babel and Dossena at all, so I'm going with Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Babel and Dossena are interchangeable for either role, so I'll leave it to you to assign the parts.

Luckily, Liverpool has a couple games here to figure this out, the replay not being until a week from today at Goodison. Everton is headed into the grinder here, home to Arsenal today and away to United on Saturday. I only have my hunch to go by, but the Toffees seem like they'll have little left to offer in seven days. They were massively up for the two derby matches, but unless Moyes plays a weakened side for some reason today or Saturday, I don't see how Everton survives this string of tests in their current form – even with Arteta and Fellaini set to return.

Who knows? I've been wrong a bunch this year, except for when I refused to get excited about Liverpool's fast start. Once I began to believe, well, things have been all over the place and my brain is scrambled. That's enough on the derby. Back to the League.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Villa's away support also comes home from Fratton Park with the full three points

Here's full credit, a tip of the cap and so on and so forth to Villa's traveling support today. Mere seconds after Portsmouth supporters launched into a half-hearted rendition of the beyond-tired "Play on Pompey," Villa backers responded from the away end with a very spirited "You've only got one song!"

Villa was already up 1-0 at that point in the first half, so full credit to them for being as inspired as Heskey's expert finish that ended up being enough for the full points. I'm guessing others have reacted similarly at Fratton Park in the past, but I hadn't heard that one yet – at Portsmouth, at least.

Look out, Italian women; don't get raped

This is a couple days old, but I can't let it pass. Our old friend Berlusconi is back at it, this time saying Italy lacks sufficient soldiers to prevent all the country's women from being raped. Some details, as I'm sure you're expecting if you haven't yet heard this:

ROME (AP) – Premier Silvio Berlusconi sparked outrage Sunday for suggesting that Italy's women were so beautiful they needed military escorts to avoid being raped.
Berlusconi made the comments in response to questions about his proposal to deploy 300,000 soldiers in the streets to fight crime. A series of violent attacks, including a rape in Rome on New Year's Eve and another outside the capital this week, have put pressure on the government to crack down on crime.
But Berlusconi said that, even in a militarized state, crimes like rape can happen. "You can't consider deploying a force that would be sufficient to prevent the risk," the ANSA and Apcom news agencies quoted him as saying. "We would have to have so many soldiers because our women are so beautiful."
Opposition lawmakers denounced the comments.
Berlusconi, in an effort to explain himself, said he was complimenting Italian women "because there are only about 100,000 people in law enforcement, while there are millions of beautiful women."

Such a charmer, that Silvio. But the real losers in all this are Garry Cook and all the jokers over at Manchester City. Just a few days after Cook's shameful whinge over bottling the Kaká transfer pitch, City's disgrace continues through Berlusconi.
You might ask how. Well, City got played from pillar to post by the crowd over at Milan, the head check-signer, of course, being Berlusconi. Kaká, Berlusconi and all the Milan hierarchy had no intention of seeing the deal through and played it out so publicly just to further their own glory and claim some people have no price, no matter what the riches. And yet, City somehow got bamboozled by a man who just a few days later would claim his country's law enforcement officials couldn't possibly prevent all Italian women from being raped – simply because all Italian women are targets for rapists.
An insulting baboon proved smarter than Garry Cook. Ouch, City. You forgot this:

Monday, January 26, 2009

This picture doesn't get old

Just details to sort out now. It seems to be mostly done and dusted.

This man can add a lot to Arsenal's attacking thrust. Oftentimes, when watching with an assortment of Arsenal supporters, frustration has been the name of the game. Especially over the last couple of seasons. That final third has left us wanting. All too often you hear the loud shouts of "SHOOT!" ringing through the spaces. Yet a shot shouldn't be forced. It should be deliberate. Its end should already be written. There are no prayers with shooting. No aspirations or hopes that it was the right thing to do. Just resolute belief that it is the one final detail the audience needs.

What Arsenal have missed for too long is the final creative touch ... that deft unzipping that makes their football truly beautiful. The unzipping that discovers the shot - the end of the story, the answer to the equation. Without it, their football is an excruciating tease. The precision is there, the imagination is there, yet the final stroke is missing. And we've grown too accustomed to it at this point. For my own part, I'm almost numb to the proceedings. Win, lose or draw, we all are fully aware that in the end, there's a massive piece missing. So now we sit and take a breath, strengthened with the hope that this little guy can offer that final stroke. Fully aware, yes, that he's a no gift from the heavens, rather we have to hope that he brings the right gifts - the right pieces - at the right time. For this team, this collection of footballers, the inherent needs that lie bare before, during and after each match ... Andrei Arshavin could well be what is needed.

If he does bring that extra touch that is so breathlessly demanded ... Primarily, we're looking for his grace to coax an improvement out of Emmanuel Adebayor. Here's a man with incredible athletic ability. He comes with all of the natural traits necessary to be great and to achieve great things. But he's missed a chance lately, hasn't he? I don't think many would argue that more is expected of him. And I steadfastly believe that adding a player of Arshavin's skill (unproven at this level, yes, but skill none the less) can be the difference-maker that a player like Adebayor could greatly benefit from playing with. No doubt Ade can be great and is always going to be close to breaking out of the mold he's cast for himself ...

... we can only hope now that Arshavin brings the right elements to bear.

Passing a stone

I feel a bit more sympathy for Rafa at the moment.

Like some kind of searing and piercing pain is about to pass. 

After the news has been changing every five hours for each of the last 26 days, it seems we're finally closer to a resolution in the Arshavin transfer saga. This weekend's draw against Cardiff underscores, yet again, the pressing need Arsenal have for another creative influence. Missing out on Theo Walcott, Tomas Rosicky, Cesc Fabregas and Eduardo means we're missing out on four men who should/could be in the starting eleven. To say nothing of not replacing the departed Hleb and Flamini. Adding someone of Arshavin's influence could make a true splash with the approach that Arsenal take to the game, there's no mistaking that. 

At the same time, there's no mistaking that the boy hasn't been playing much football, and the football he has played has been in the reclusive Russian league. He'll have a lot to prove, while much will be expected of him quickly. Not a good combination. There will be loads of pressure upon his arrival. All the same, I, and I'm sure many others are fantastically excited to see him in our side and we can sense the potential impact.

This tonight from Zenit:

"The fundamental understanding over the transfer of the player has been achieved between the clubs. "
Interestingly, the Club say that Arsenal are still some way off on personal terms for the player. This would be in conflict with earlier reports that his personal terms had already been determined and agreed upon. Again, the yo-yo effect of this saga has me exhausted. I can't wait until we get to worry about points, goals, pushing forward and triangular movement.

Apologies for the lack of action on Match Pricks lately. It's been a dreadful lull in the season. We're all looking forward, I'm sure, to getting back down to football. Arsenal will surely have their hands full in the next couple of weeks with a replay against Cardiff and the Champions League starting up again. Hopefully we'll be looking for a return from Theo Walcott, and a run-out for Eduardo with Croatia in the second week of February to get him in shape for Arsenal's first-team again.

Right. Everton on Wednesday. West Ham on Saturday. Cardiff again on the following Tuesday. Great scheduling FA. Way to work. Looking forward to that. (insert heavy eye roll here)

We'll see tomorrow if this deal is finally locked up.

Friday, January 23, 2009

I swear your honor, I didn't do nuthin'

Captain Fantastic in simpler times.

A nod to This is Anfield for their latest piece on Gerrard's Top 10 goals. A nice distraction – with video clips(!) – from the downer news of the past week surrounding Liverpool Football Club.

Fried chicken in Kuwait; also, Gerrard pleads not guilty

The most interesting nugget about Liverpool's wanna-be new owners from Kuwait:

"The Kharafis are a prestigious family in Kuwait. Nasser is the 48th richest man in the world. And it's not petro dollars that have (entirely) funded the move, but burgers. And donuts. Nasser's huge retail business empire – he owns the regional rights for Wimpy and KFC and is the single biggest shareholder in Krispy Kreme - has made him the second richest businessman in the Arab world, with a personal fortune of over £7bn."

The gist is that the Kharafis, unlike City's flashy but impotent new owners, appear to be the kind of folks who chase a profit and are not really interested in assembling a series of European club stars in one place. Whatever, it's only been a day of this and I'm already tired of it. With all the ownership transfer rumors that have filled the past year and a half at Anfield, I've never engaged in a conversation about them with anybody that lasted more than a minute. I'll give you 90 seconds, tops. That's because it's tremendously boring and not what anyone I know interested in Liverpool cares to ponder too seriously. Let's just win the damn League already. That's all we ask, and now the Hicks-Gillet saga has woken from its sleep to provide further distraction while the club has been closer than ever under Benitez. Oof, enough. I'm already sick of it again. I've been typing for roughly 60 seconds, so it's time to move on ...

... to another massive distraction. Gerrard pleaded not guilty today in court for the alleged Phil Collins-fueled assault outside the Lounge Inn. I mean, please, this is standard operating procedure in any minor criminal case. You bide your time until a deal can be struck with prosecutors, who are always more likely to accept some lesser charge rather than tie up their overworked resources in a ridiculous trial that provides little public benefit. Gerrard's merely taking part in the process, which requires court appearances and such "advancements" as entering a plea and the like.

Again, terrifically boring. But, hey, Cavalieri might start in goal for Liverpool during the derby Cup match on Sunday. Well, that's something. Christ, somebody wake me when kickoff at Anfield against Chelsea arrives.

Great, that's all I need

It's not been the best week here as a Liverpool fan, what with letting the derby slip away by conceding a late equalizer and having United overtake us at the top of the table. Uber-prick Tom Hicks wanted to go for the misery hat trick, apparently, and now we're dealing with all the papers (literally, all of them; please see your favorite for more) leading with news that some oil-soaked layabouts in Kuwait want to slather Hicks with £500 million for the privilege of taking over the club.

The guy has all the timing of a spastic watchmaker working in the dark. The one week the whole world laughs at City and their johnny-come-lately oil barons from the Middle East for their small-time and futile attempt at signing Kaká, it's revealed Liverpool might soon get its own clueless petroleum-based ownership group to throw around barrels full of money and not get anything accomplished.

Dios mio. All we need now is Rafa to say on Friday afternoon he will refuse to play Torres until he gains full control over all transfers in his next contract, and the meltdown will be complete. Oh wait, Gerrard could be immediately jailed at his court appearance today.

It just gets better, don't it?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

What he said

Stand at attention, please. Yes, yes, still alive aren't we?

At the moment, while Jim is suffering from Liverpool's frustrating form and the rapidly closing gap at the top of the table, I'm suffering from an absolute transfer window weariness. It's the same thing every time, isn't it? Spanish clubs (either Barca or - today - Real Madrid) will run their mouths about the players and managers they'll bring in, that's guranteed. And as a note, I didn't even bother to read that article. The headline tells me everything I need to know, as well as everything I need to discard as rubbish. Then we've got the nouveau riche up at Citeh and the "oh,  oh, oh me too" clan over at Spurs tossing around gobs of cash at every player who ever scored a goal, and talking publicly about each step. This, of course, doesn't even bring to light the dreadfully boring saga of Andrei Arshavin. A dash of sanity please? Maybe?

Invariably, I get recklessly excited about the prospects of what we need, who we'll buy, how much we've got to spend ... and then come crashing to Earth be the end of the second week of the period. That said, note that I have the utmost respect for the way Arsenal conduct themselves. Frustrated at their refusal to jump for dream players, but fully trusting of the decisions they make.

Meanwhile, Arsenal are beginning to look better ... and are beginning to look like they're up for it. A 3-1 win away at Hull at the weekend, in spite of leaving it late, got it done yet again. Now it's Cardiff on the horizon in the FA Cup on Sunday with lots to be excited about. That competition, I believe, holds quite a large key for us this year. We've known all year that Arsenal could be well done by a massive dose of confidence, fleeting as it can be. Another win there with a strong mixture of first-teamers and some of those coveted up and comers, and we will continue to be right in there. Go on, yuck it up. Fact is, there's a lot of football left to play and the lads at the Grove are looking like they just love nicking points off of those other clubs in their way (alright, alright, Villa aside).

Go get 'em, lads. Find that gas pedal and let's get our minds back on some football.

It's come to this

No, Match Pricks hasn't disappeared from all of your lives for good. I just needed more time to recover and accept what happened in the derby than I realized. That, and also a roaring Monday night bender across the city that reminded me Tuesday morning that I'm much, much older than I was the last time I tried something like that.

Anyway, look at that picture above. I actually wore a shell suit top to work Monday night, and it was selected with the intention of trying to cling to even a small bit of the era from Liverpool's last golden age in the League. I consciously decided that perhaps by donning a shell suit jacket, I can summon the ghosts of Paisley and Fagan, and instill the spirit of Dalglish and Rush, by some weird, trans-Atlantic psycho-fashion osmosis into the current Liverpool side.

Yes, it's come to this.

More to come ...

Monday, January 19, 2009

It's derby day!

There are few Liverpool games every season for which I use vacation time from work to make sure I don't miss a second. The Champions League knockout stages are a given because of how they're played in midweek. Sometimes, for a particularly good one, I'll use vacation time for a group stage match, like with Atletíco this year.

However, until today, I had never needed to take a vacation day to catch a Premier League fixture. But a few weeks back when I checked the schedule, I didn't even hesitate. Might as well let the bosses know I won't be around for work on Jan. 19. Yep, not showing up at all for that. Yeah, just take 8 hours off my vacation time for the year. Oh well, only four weeks of time left for me to use in 2009. How will I manage?

As always, we're celebrating a fit and rested Alonso today. There's a meet-up planned for Milwaukee natives or those passing through the city this afternoon. Click here for further details, and while you're at it, consider joining up. We're all fans of The Director these days.

Hopefully, Rafa doesn't try to trip Rick Parry while they walk out of the director's box or anything today. Let's get the focus back to the League, the derby and friendly wagers as to who gets the first red card in the match. And if you are certain there won't be one, you haven't been watching many Merseyside derbies lately, have you?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Today at Match Pricks: Wenger says it best, Alonso in and Lucas out, Essien should be the king of Africa

Good morning Huyton-with-Roby. It's good to have you back. Everyone else will be here shortly. Meanwhile, click these links below for the latest Match Pricks musings. You know, in case that scroll bar is too far away.

• Colin with an epic takedown of Mark Hughes and this Kaká foolishness. Plus, we invoke the genius of Wenger, who captures the reality of Kaká for £100 milion better than anyone else has even tried.

• You got a problem with Michael Essien?

• I'm so mad at you, Lucas. I could just – Ohhh! – decapitate you or something.

• On Monday, first round's on Alonso, dogg.

Good news everyone: Alonso's coming, and he's bringing booze!

Now this is exactly what I wanted to hear. The Director has declared himself fit for the derby on Monday.

I mean, what else sounds as sweet and amazing? Perhaps your secretary telling you Marisa Miller called and she's planning to wear something small to your dinner date tonight?

My favorite moment for The Director in the derby came March 25, 2006, at Anfield when drunken loose-cannon Inter disappointment Andy Van der Meyde saw red when he recklessly took Alonso down with a flying elbow after Gerrard had been sent off before the 20th minute, leading to a crazy Harry Kewell goal and a 3-1 Liverpool victory. Before that, Luis Garcia had chipped Liverpool's second from a Crouch flick on, and the Kop shouted "We've only got 10 men! We've only got 10 men! We've ... only got ... 10 men!"

Oh, the derby. I've missed you so. Welcome back, Alonso.

Bring me the head of Lucas Leiva

My daily Stoke therapy sessions continue this morning with the player who has been in my sights since about, oh, 52 seconds into Saturday's match, or as I've now dubbed it: The Day The Laughter Died. I've got a Dr. Dre-inspired, red-laser gunsight pointed at you, Lucas.

The thing is, ever since the derby at Goodison last season when Rafa brought him on at the end to keep things under control, Rafa has included Lucas in that group of players he develops a great big, diamond-cutting hard-on for. Top of this list is Kuyt, who can do no wrong for Rafa Benitez. This season, Benayoun has crept onto that list. A couple years back, Sissoko was on and off it, seemingly at random but mostly depending on how often he lost his head and fancied himself a playmaker.

With Alonso out against Stoke so those seven stitches could do their work and heal the best player this season in the side, Rafa turned to Lucas, the boy Brazilian who looks like he's from Poland. There's no question Lucas has the ability to sit on the ball in an Alonso-like fashion and direct traffic. His breathtaking through-ball from midfield to a breaking Gerrard against Newcastle is proof of that. But he's still young, and Lucas is struggling with the same thing a lot of 22-year-old guys are: self-confidence. From thousands of miles away and watching on TV, it seemed like the Stoke supporters got to him. Combined with a dodgy pitch that made control difficult, Lucas displayed a first touch that would have made Sissoko circa 2005 proud. His performance was abysmal.

So what to do with him then? Well, until I see otherwise, Lucas should be selling pies at halftime. This is a big boy league, and Lucas hasn't grown up yet. Unfortunately, his growing pains are raising my blood pressure and forcing me to express the erosion of my mental health on the Internet. I can't take much more of this, kiddo. Get your act together.

Africa's greatest footballer of 2008: How is George Weah not on this list?

Colin and I are obviously Arsenal and Liverpool supporters, respectively, but we fancy ourselves worldly men – at times at least. That's why I want to stop for a second and run down the shortlist for 2008 African Footballer of the Year. The three finalists were just announced, but Daily Guide Ghana has, by far, the best headline summarizing the whole shebang out of any of the items I quickly scanned before posting this.

Let's take a quick look at the finalists for a minute and pretend I'm not going to pick Michael Essien without considering the other two at all:

• Emmanuel Adebayor, Togo: My overriding impression of Adebayor comes from watching Colin and his Arsenal mates down at the bar kvetch and moan about how Adebayor is not playing like he could be. Honestly, from what I've seen of him over the last couple years, the boy can play. He's pretty good but misses a few too many from close in. Yet, the reaction his shortcomings generate among the Arsenal crew down at the bar is just hilarious. You'd think they were succumbing to Rafa's good luck kidney stones or something. It's quite the sight. A lot of reports peg Adebayor as the favorite for the award. I say anybody that causes Colin such distress on a somewhat regular basis cannot possibly named Africa's best.

• Mohamed Aboutrika, Egypt: The name strikes a chord, but unlike God and Kenny Dalglish, I am not omnipotent. I can't be everywhere at once, so Aboutrika is beyond me. The press reports say he led Egypt to the African Cup of Nations trophy, as well as his club team to victory in the African Champions League. Hey, that's good enough for me. He's pretty good, but who are we kidding here? Close, but no cigar – at least in Jim's book.

• Michael Essien, Ghana: Here we go. I've been saying since shortly after Essien went to Chelsea and I had a chance to see him play that he's the best player in the side every single time he takes the pitch. And I held that opinion even when Drogba about a year, year and a half ago was at his absolute best. Essien is a stone killer, dogg. And the proof is in the "fall of Chelsea" we're supposedly seeing this season with him out of the lineup, trying to recover from long-term injury. Can a player who famously failed to mark Ronaldo effectively enough in the Champions League on a set piece, leading to a United goal, and who has been hurt for half the year still be named the 2008 African Footballer of the Year? If I had a vote, he'd win it in a walk. Come to think of it, why don't I have a vote? I've seen "When We Were Kings."

So there you have it. Michael Essien is your 2008 African Footballer of the Year. It's like the Daily Guide Ghana said in the link above: It's Essien and then two other guys.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Hughes wants your milkshake; Arsene delivers sanity

What happens when one man gets drunk on his wealth and delivers enough money to fund an entire division of football, for one player?

Broken record alert: it's been a tough year. We've all questioned Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger's, umm, decision-making. At times perplexing, at times confounding, at times frustrating, at times irritating, at times dripping with blind faith. 

News flash: I still love the man. Not too many people I'd rather sit down to a meal with than Arsene Wenger.

Now this today as Manchester City line up an absolutely deplorable move for AC Milan's Kaka to the princely sum of more than 100 million pounds. You heard me. 100 million plus. This would fall under "just because you can, doesn't mean you should." Sure, I reckon I could beat up an eight year old passing by on the sidewalk. Doesn't mean I'm going to. 

This move comes from a man, Mark Hughes, with stars in his eyes and blinders on his head. It stands to obliterate the league structure, the structure of football all together. And if you think it's a one-time move think again. One-ups-manship gets to be dangerous when we're talking about a plaything for people who have no concept of money. (Quite a bit the same as when you plop me down in front of an Indian buffet. No concept of the phrase, "you've eaten quite enough, monsieur.") If it'll cost that much to bring in a player, hell, means nothing when money is just some inconvenience that keeps you from your new toy for the paltry seconds or minutes (or god forbid an allotted amount of time like a transfer window) it takes to complete a transaction.

Recall please that magic number from about eight years ago ... the fee of 46 million pounds that Real Madrid, at the onset of its Galacticos era, shelled out to Juventus for a man who could win FIFA's World Player of the Year from his beach chair, secluded in retirement, Zinedine Zidane. I can't add or subtract to save my life but I can see the stark difference between a world record 46 million pounds and a market shattering 100 million pounds. Frankly its embarrassing in its silliness. If I was a City supporter I would be ashamed. 

Mark Hughes is most certainly drunk on his oil wealth and his new-found power at this point. He's behaving like a petulant five year old with a Ferrari. I wonder if he sits, with a blanket around his shoulders, in secluded darkness while he counts his millions and shouts out to his discarded Blackburn Rovers, "you're just a bastard from a basket!" (Editor's note: Ok, I admit it, this is a stretch, but comparing Hughes to Daniel Plainview is too damn entertaining for me right now. I'm gonna run with it for a while, and while this clip isn't entirely relevant, it's damn funny. Plus, we at Match Pricks love a good villain, and if we have the opportunity to cast Mark Hughes as a villain, well away we go!)

In the end, as you'll see from the article linked above, Arsene calls sobering attention to a real problem in the world today. Football is football, standing on a crowded street burning fistfuls of cash while half a continent can't heat their homes and Putin makes doe-eyes at his collection of framed Stalin portraits is something else all together. 

I can say loudly that I am damn proud that this man guides Arsenal Football Club. 

And I can perversely say to Mark Hughes, bring it on. I guess now we'll just wait 15 days to see if Hughes can redeem himself.

In retrospect, this is now kind of a funny picture and sentiment for these two

I keep trying to put "0-0 away to Stoke" behind me, but here it is Thursday afternoon, and I find myself downloading very mildly amusing pictures of Robbie Keane with Rafa Benitez and once more hashing out that infuriating missed opportunity from Saturday. Seriously, how pissed is Robbie Keane right now? "That damn walking calcified body invader wants to lead the line with Kuyt! Is he serious?!"

As poor as Keane was against Preston in the Cup, and he was nine shades of sad that day, I just can't get over Keane not even getting a late substitution against Stoke. Rafa and his damn 4-2-3-1 – against all odds (calm down, Stevie) – when the full 3 points are required. Particularly with Lucas and Mascherano being so poor. Why not just go for it, Rafa? Why not just throw Keane and Torres out there and see what happens? Why can't I get over this?

I'm never going to make it to Monday.

Keep it moving

Use that scroll bar, friends. Colin weighs in on Arsenal away to Hull, and he has news of an Eduardo hat trick for the reserves. There's fun Sir Alex Jintao imagery, and further down is Part 3 of the Match Pricks interview with Neil Dunkin, author of "Anfield of Dreams."

Lots of fun stuff up here because Colin and I aren't pausing for a second from blabbering about everything going on. Scroll, baby, scroll! And, as always, thanks for taking the time to visit.

Never trust an evangelical Brazilian who cashes paychecks written by this guy

CAPTION: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi demonstrates to a group of his fellow, much-less-well-off countrymen how he's going to wish Kaká well as soon as City's check clears.

Silly me, on Wednesday I trusted the word of a good-natured boy who takes his marching orders from Jesus. Instead, today's reports show Kaká was just kicking off a playful – and wholly virginal, mind you – bit of footsie with Manchester City about a £100 million (or £91 million, or £95 million) move to Eastlands in the next two weeks.

At this point, who knows? The whole thing is fading out incredibly fast. It has nowhere near the staying power of the consistently gut-busting "Ronaldo to Madrid" talk from last summer. Now that was an absurd transfer rumor. My guess is Kaká plays this out right to the end. His camp even floats a few "terms have been agreed" rumors in the press, somebody even reports on Jan. 30 that the deal will be announced within hours, and then lil' Ricky triumphantly declares to an adoring throng that he was flattered by City's tempting and generous offer, but his heart is permanently ensconced in Milan. Berlusconi gives him a pay bump and the whole thing is forgotten by the time Liverpool and Chelsea kick off at Anfield on Feb. 1.

And if you're tempted to try and overthink this thing, just remember a key player in this whole thing just a few months back was seen doing this:

ESPN is back, back, back, back, back in the running for Premier League broadcast rights

This one might be tough for any overseas Match Pricks readers to get the full gist of: ESPN wants in on Premier League broadcast rights.

I've always felt watching sports on ESPN is simultaneously enjoyable and infuriating. The entire brand – as chronicled superbly on a daily basis for two years-plus and running by Deadspin – just slowly numbs you closer to indifference and hate. It's tough to describe because if you're an American sports fan, you know exactly what I'm talking about. If you're overseas and hearing some U.S. broadcasting giant wants in on all that hot English soccer action, then you don't know ESPN's style. It's a mix of everything: the on-air personalities, graphics, reporting tone – everything. After two hours of soaking it in while just merely trying to watch your favorite team win a damn game, your brain kind of just hates itself. But ESPN is so omnipresent, if you're not paying attention to their coverage, well, you're going to end up getting the latest about your favorite team or league much later than if you did watch the network and read their Web site.

Now, the conflict for me as an American Premier League fan: ESPN gaining broadcast rights would most likely make watching the matches a whole lot easier for me on a weekly basis. There's nothing that takes the years off your life quicker than checking the schedules and seeing I have to drag my sorry, and sometimes hungover, butt out of bed at 5:30 a.m. on a Saturday in the middle of winter, crawl outside, scrape ice off the car and roll on down to the bar to catch Liverpool away to Bolton. I mean, I'm going to do it every single time. Of course I will. But sometimes I'd like to be able to shorten that list of tasks to get out of bed, crawl 20 feet to the couch, lay down and turn on the TV. Is that so wrong?

And even if I wanted to go to the bar, ESPN having the matches would guarantee me the thing is going to be shown with a professional presentation, no matter how aggravating. is great, but only as a last resort. As it stands, every Liverpool match this season has been shown on either FSC or Setanta here in the States, so I'm probably overestimating this convenience. Still, I don't know what to make of this one.

In the end, it just seems like ESPN could really screw up the Premier League experience for fans over here. I can only imagine how it'd be received in England.

Agger in the rumor mill: Off to see Goldenballs in Milan

It says here, Agger is headed to Milan for £8.5 million because Liverpool won't meet his wage demands. Well, at least Skrtel is back from that could've-been-so-much-worse leg injury at City a couple months back. But with the always lovable but ancient Sami Hyypia running out of time to keep defying the odds, Rafa will surely have to buy a center half in the summer. It's tough, but in the end, the possible move makes me reflect on Agger's brief time at Anfield:

• Rafa bought him because Moores couldn't pony up the cash for Nemanja Vidic. At the time, I didn't care much. Now ... ugh. But, of course, we always hear about how Rafa "buys poorly" too often. Never mind Simao, Dani Alves ... and the list goes on. Anyway, the counterpoints defending Rafa's buying policy when he lacked cash are all over the Web. I'll just leave it at Agger represents Rafa doing the best he could with what he had available to him.

• Speaking of doing his best, we'll always have this from the boy:

• Lastly, as Agger's time with Liverpool appears to be ending, I can't get out of my head the completely unfounded, outrageous and in no-way-provable rumor my great, Liverpool-born-and-bred friend here in Milwaukee insists is true: That Daniel Agger is a tremendous fan of the booger suger. I have to laugh because he started spreading it as soon as the Agger-wants-out talk began a couple months ago that he heard from friends and family back home Danny just can't get enough of that pure, white snow. It's hilarious when you talk to him about it. He doesn't doubt it for a second. Let's see, in a town as close-knit and football-mad as Liverpool, when a player expresses displeasure with the team, do you think people might start saying bad things about the guy? Is that possible in any way? Not a chance in hell, right?

OK, Danny, thanks for the memories. If you're off for Milan, so be it. You and Becks should bond as teammates by getting new tattoos together one night. Take care, kiddo.

Remember me?

Just about 11 months later ... Eduardo is knocking on the door. If you've kept up with Match Pricks, you've kept up with the world of Eduardo and how he has inspired all of us to reach for greater heights (it sounds corny when written like that, but really, think of all of those parties that would've been missed if we didn't pull it off, in the name of Eduardo ... you know, because he would have wanted us to!).

Word in the Daily Mail late tonight (early this morning across most of the rest of the world) has Eduardo notching a hat trick in his second reserves match for Arsenal in advance of his highly anticipated return to first team football. Nothing else of note yet to confirm, or add extra detail, to the report, but for now it's enough to send me off to bed with that killer last two minutes of Purple Rain slamming down in my head.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Speaking of being imposed upon (see below, don't forget to scroll kiddies)

So help me ...

Arsenal have Hull at the weekend - away this time. Three points, please. No less. 

We are clinging, desperately clinging (with broken spears and shattered shields as Ray Hudson would call it on GolTV) (watch it, you won't be disappointed, in spite of the fact that it's ol' Jose Antonio Reyes doing the scoring), to our hopes of landing the absolutely necessary and bare minimum fourth spot in the league. And now, with seven unbeaten (eh, not all bad, eh?) behind us and Chelski sputtering in front of us, if we keep winning, we can climb.

The last time Arsenal faced Hull, the Tigers were flying high and looking like world beaters in the early stages of the season. Up 1-nil, Arsenal lost at home, straight off of a 6-nil romp in the Carling Cup, by giving up 2 to the premier league newcomers ... a 2-1 loss and an early look at how the season might go.

If we come out the same way on Saturday I will absolutely lose my mind. It'd be nice to just have a few goals for fun - like it should be, with a smile even. Rather than the all-too-familiar feeling of a massive weight being peeled off of you at the 85th minute (time and time again). This team needs to put it into gear and slam the foot on the gas straight away. Rev it up, baby. Let's get it going. The last two matches I've watched were Arsenal's terse 1-nil over Bolton, and Liverpool's dour, and referee dampening, 0-0 against Stoke (and about half of the Manchester United vs. Chelski match, before I began to feel imposed upon). As Robin van Persie said (a man who once claimed Arsenal's football came from another planet), it's not football when it's played like that. 10-0-0 or 0-10-0 formations? Piss off.

Hell no. Get after it lads. We can only hope for a statement, and maybe even a couple of goals? Why not, right? Hull have been slipping away in a hurry and Arsenal have been forging a bit more of a new identity of late. Granted we've not been reaching for great heights, but there's no ignoring the fact that the side seems to be coming together in an interesting way ... leaders are being born in a hurry. Now for that creative and incisive edge that is needed to open up, or brush aside, the team bus that'll be parked in front of the Hull goal.

New today at Match Pricks

• Kaká ca-calls off the Man City money bags.

• The long-awaited third and final installment of the Match Pricks interview with "Anfield of Dreams" author Neil Dunkin, in which he discusses Heysel, Hillsborough and his favorite personal experiences on the Kop.

• Rafa Benitez has his Kevin Keegan moment, that is if Keegan ever went into hospital for his third kidney stones operation in a month. Lordy, it still hurts just thinking abou it.

Seriously, what is Rafa eating and drinking?

The Mail is up with news Rafa is back in hospital today for his third(!) operation to treat kidney stones. He's out of action and Sammy Lee is running the show at Melwood while Rafa receives treatment.

I mean, wow, talk about an ordeal. I've had some fun with Rafa's good luck kidney stones and all that, but this is starting to hurt me. Sure, Rafa's a pretty wound-up guy, but I think the combination of stress and whatever he's been ingesting for the last 25 years should probably be reviewed by his family physician once this all clears up. And sweet Jesus H. Christ, do I hope this clears up soon.

Ouch, Rafa. I'm crossing my legs and grimacing all the way over here in Milwaukee. Ugh.

Buy this book: Part 3 of the Match Pricks interview with Neil Dunkin, author of "Anfield of Dreams"

This is long overdue, but with the "double-derby" approaching next week at Anfield, it's appropriate to post the final installment of last fall's wide ranging interview with Neil Dunkin, author of "Anfield of Dreams: A Kopite's Odyssey from the Second Division to Sublime Istanbul" and, I should add, also a helluva guy. In this final installment, Neil talks at length about Hillsborough and Heysel, and then leaves us with some of his favorite personal experiences being a part of the Kop and its legend.

You can read Part 1 here and then catch up with Part 2 here. Neil's book encompasses a lifetime following Liverpool Football Club from the 1950s up through the creation of the colossus under Shankly, to the European heights with Paisley and on through the years until that night in Istanbul. I only wish I could share the full audio with anyone interested. Neil was a blast to talk with for the better part of an hour.

You can buy Neil Dunkin's "Anfield of Dreams: A Kopite's Odyssey from the Second Division to Sublime Istanbul" through this link if you're in the U.S. or try this Amazon UK link for an even more definite purchasing process. The exchange rate hasn't been this good in a long time, folks.

To learn more about Hillsborough, please check out The Hillsborough Justice Campaign and this section on the official team site.

MATCH PRICKS: Coming from my background, and coming late to falling in love with the game and being a Liverpool fan, I feel like I should understand what happened at Hillsborough and Heysel. But I feel it is insensitive to ask people about it.

NEIL DUNKIN: Oh, no. No. Some people cannot talk about it, but a lot went wrong in both places. I wasn’t at Hillsborough, but I was at Heysel. It was just a dreadful experience. I came into the ground, and I was watching people dying.

MP: Are those things you relate in your book, how you work through it?
ND: Yes, I describe that. It’s unfortunate. The seeds of Heysel were sewn the year before when Liverpool played Roma in Rome in the European Cup Final. Liverpool won. After the match, Liverpool fans were attacked. I wasn’t there, but a friend was, and unfortunately people were stabbed. So that caused a lot of ill feeling.
The following year we played Juventus, and some people wanted to have revenge. But they should not have charged. Fans who are so-called – I’m not going to say they were all Liverpool fans because it might have been fans from another part of the country – but English fans charged and because they charged, 39 innocent people died. For me it was a dreadful thing to see and a black, black day.
I’m not going to defend the English fans because there had been a history of hooliganism by English fans, as well as hooliganism by other fans, such as the Italians. Liverpool had to be banned from Europe after that because 39 people had died.
But with regards to Hillsborough, I’ve read a lot about it. If people who’ve ready my chapter about Hillsborough, one of my neighbors – he supports West Ham United since the late ‘60s – and he read the book and he said to me, “The Hillsborough chapter, it had me in tears.” And I hope people read that.
What happened at Hillsborough was an absolute disgrace, and there was a lot of covering up of the real facts afterwards. The police changed their notebooks and … evidence.

MP: That’s the thing, it feels important to me to understand the history of Liverpool and to understand the club. And I just think those issues – I don’t want to disrespect. I’m curious, but sometimes I wonder, ‘Do people really want to talk about it?’
ND: Well, they do and they’re still campaigning. There’s a mother called Ann Williams whose son, Kevin, died at Hillsborough. He was 15. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but when they had an inquest, an inquiry into how these people died, well, the coroner was in charge of the inquest. He decreed on the day of the match, he said he would only accept evidence before 3:15, what happened before 3:15 in the afternoon because they all were dead. By that time, that was just absolute nonsense because Ann Williams’ son Kevin … he sort of opened his eyes at 3:35, I think, and said, “Mum.” So he called for his Mom. So he was alive.
So Ann is fighting for a review of the evidence. She’s going to the European court with this and people in Liverpool are supporting her. And I understand this because there was a massive cover-up that went on that day. It’s an open wound for Liverpool and the fans. They still feel it very strongly. Anyone who’s interested in what happened and they want information, you know, they don’t feel – so many people were actually there.
I’ve got a mate who was in the crush in Leppings Lane, and he finds it difficult just to talk about it because he’s blanked it out of his mind, it was so horrible.

MP: It just seems from what little I’ve read that it’s shocking lies, really.
ND: Well, exactly. That’s what it boils down to.

MP: I mean, the police …
ND: Oh, they covered up so much. In my book, I got in touch with a doctor who was in the crowd. He’s from Liverpool, but he now works up in Scotland. He got onto the pitch, trying to revive people. He was on the radio, sort of immediately afterwards, in a matter of minutes talking about what he’d seen and what had happened. And I’d listened to his testimony. It was on the BBC. And he was so angry at the fact they didn’t have any defibrillators there and the way Liverpool fans were left to die on the pitch, basically.
He was walking off the pitch after trying to save people’s lives, and Kenny Dalglish was standing in the tunnel, looking at the mayhem – obviously, Kenny was deeply shocked by it all – and (he) said to Kenny as he walked down the tunnel, ‘Kenny, don’t let them blame this on the fans.’ Of course, what happened was the police tried to blame it on the fans and The Sun published ‘the truth,’ they urinated on the dead bodies and it was lies.

MP: From my distance, it seems impossible that the record hasn’t been corrected.

ND: Well, it has been corrected, but the editor at the time of The Sun, still on occasion will refuse to accept it. His account of the truth is all lies, and that again, it’s a cause of great, great anger in Liverpool. I feel angry about it, too.

MP: My friend, his Dad took him as a boy to the Kop before they took it down in ’94 when they had to change it. He has some fun stories. When his Dad has visited (the U.S.), I’ve asked him for a couple fun stories. I know there’s probably many, many ones, but if you’d just be willing to share one. I like any good Kop story.
ND: Well, on your blog, I noticed the BBC of the Kop in ’64 when they were singing. The BBC was doing this documentary about the Kop. I was at that match. The reporter, John Morgan, he was with the BBC. You might not know this, but you have to buy a license in England to watch TV. Well, the money goes to the BBC.
So when John Morgan started doing his piece to the camera in front of the Kop, the Kop started singing, ‘Ee-I-addy-oh, we haven’t got a license!’ So they had to cut that out.
The other sort of big broadcaster at the time, the commercial broadcaster, was called ITV. They were the big rival to the BBC. So the Kop started shouting, ‘ITV! ITV!’ Of course, they had to cut that out, too. It was all good-natured.
The Kop, it’s unique. In the book I give a lot of examples of the sense of humor. If you look you’ll see there was a Leeds United goalkeeper called Gary Sprake who in the early ‘70s, he’s about to throw the ball out at the Kop end. The ball slipped out of his hands and went into his own goal, and the Liverpool fans – there was a hit record at the time called ‘Careless Hands’ – and of course the fans started singing it at Gary Sprake because he just scored, threw the ball into his own goal.

MP: That’s very quick for a crowd to react that fast.
ND: Another one which I cover (in the book), we played Grimsby in the FA Cup, a small club in the Second Division. And Grimsby is a center for fishing, for trawlermen and that. They brought something like 7,000 fans. They filled the Anfield Road end. They were very good supporters, singing away, so of course, the Kop starts off with, ‘You only sing when you’re fishing!’ And they started chanting, ‘In the net! In the net!’
Then they started going through Liverpool players on the pitch like Jimmy Case. They started chanting ‘Jimmy Place! Jimmy Place!’ Like a place to fish. And they went on through various players on the team. Phil Neal was there so they started chanting ‘Phil Eel!’

MP: Everybody got a marine reference?

ND: Well, they couldn’t do the whole team but a lot of the team. It was just very, very inventive. A mate of mine was a Grimsby fan, and he was in the Grimsby crowd and he said the Kop was really fantastic.
It’s unique. There’s no other stand like it or terrace like it in the whole world. And it’s been an honor really to have been and seen what they do.

A false dawn in Manchester

Well, that didn't take long.

Honestly, even though it was far-fetched and eight shades of absurd, I'm disappointed Stephen Ireland won't be lining up next to Kaká in the center of midfield at Eastlands. I particularly enjoyed the wrinkle that would have brought Gattuso and the he-was-fading-and-done-four-years-ago Dida along with Kaká to City. Say what you will about the gross amounts of money City's new oil-rich owners are flinging around in a worldwide recession, the sheikh has a sense of style and that counts for something.

It reminds me of 1980s WWF legend The Million Dollar Man. So in love with their own wealth are City's owners, anybody can be bought, anything can happen at City – Kaká even. And he'll bring along his best friends and everyone will score goals. Before you know it, perhaps even Jintao himself will become subordinate to the Man City All-Stars?

Well, not quite.

City's money bags rolled into Milan the other day with all the bravado of Ted DiBiase in that clip above: "I can buy happiness. I can buy love. And if I want to, I can even buy you."

Perhaps, but Kaká's price is, literally, out of this world.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Liverpool players that have made me get really drunk, in a bad way: Djimi Traoré

There's loads of Liverpool news here in the aftermath of this past weekend: Rafa and his contract squabbles have bubbled up again, Torres is tipping United to win the League, the derby is coming up. However, none of that interests me all that much here on Tuesday because I feel a drunk coming on. And when I get that itch to booze, I always flash back to one man: Djimi Traoré. The infuriating Liverpool left back, who I not-so-affectionately dubbed "The Donkey" during his time at Anfield, sent me off saucing like you wouldn't believe.

It's because of Traoré and his it'd-be-funny-if-it-wasn't-so-tragic level of inept play that I'd like to introduce a new, semi-regular Match Pricks feature – Liverpool players that have made me get really drunk, in a bad way. I'm an old man now, but a few years back, guys like Traoré sent me off on Jameson-fueled benders that would make a Somali pirate blush. Yet, my affection for Liverpool Football Club is such that in an odd way, I've come to love Traoré and others like him for their savage attacks on my liver and personal dignity. For that reason, I've started Liverpool players that have made me get really drunk, in a bad way. As time passes, these men deserve a unique form of celebration.

So, on to Traoré then. The case file against his play would fill a file cabinet four times over, but there's two moments that stick out above all else: Early October 2005: Liverpool 1 – Chelsea 4 and January 2005: Burnley 1 – Liverpool 0. As Colin says, "Dios, mio!"

With Burnley, it was Rafa's first season in England, and he failed to show proper respect for the FA Cup. Benitez treated the third-round tie at Burnley like a training ground scrimmage, fielding the following side:

Liverpool: Dudek, Raven, Hyypia, Whitbread, Traore (Baros 65), Nunez, Biscan, Welsh (Mellor 75), Potter, Warnock, Sinama Pongolle.
Subs Not Used: Otsemobor, Harrison, Smyth.

I couldn't even tell you who half those guys are. Raven? Otsemobor? What? Actually, you could have told me a guy named "What" was on the subs' bench that night and I wouldn't have batted an eye. However, this is about Djimi Traoré, and that night he opened the second half with one of the great own goals in FA Cup history. Traoré somehow back-heeled a cross into his own net. He probably couldn't do it again in a million tries, but luckily photographers attend these sorts of matches. One was present to capture Traoré's shame that night in all its sadness.
Says it all, don't it? To this day, Burnley 1 – Liverpool 0 remains a fat, black mark against Rafa's record in England. Pundits bring it up all the time as a critique. Thanks, Djimi.

However, the own goal at Burnley was a bit of lucky incompetence in the end. Traoré's most sustained display of impotent play that I remember took place during an amazing sequence at Anfield on the first weekend of October 2005. In a match that early in the season, Traoré helped Chelsea inflict Liverpool's worst home defeat in decades and contributed to an effort that by Oct. 2, 2005, had, stunningly, left Liverpool 17 points adrift of the Blues. I mean, if that doesn't call for a stiff drink, you must be a teetotaler.

The cherry on the sundae that afternoon was Traoré taking possession in the left corner and turning to clear upfield. He kicked it directly at Drogba, who calmly controlled, turned to his left and made for the goal. Not content to merely give away possession so close to his own goal, Traoré went for his own personal version of a brace and cut Drogba down in the box, gifting Chelsea an easy penalty. It was shocking in its efficiency. In less than five seconds, he did all but kick the ball for Chelsea into his own goal. I can still envision the sequence in my mind's eye. I think I blasted back two quick shots and slammed a Guinness.

But, Traoré wouldn't be a Liverpool player without a little bit of affection in reserve. Despite the examples cited above, and several others too painful to mention, Djimi Traoré, with a little help from his friends, was able to do this:
And for that, we can all be thankful. Here's to Djimi Traoré, a Liverpool player that made me get really drunk, in a bad way.

Somebody needs to wash these windows

I'm losing my juice to blast Sir Alex Jintao today. It's Tuesday, he remains an infuriating ass-hat, and Colin got into him six kinds of Free People Everywhere already, so there's a couple of transfer window items I just can't let be.

Straight from the headlines:

• N'Zogbia wants to leave Newcastle. And Duff. And Given. And Martins. And probably most folks who call Tyneside home, too. In other news, sun rises in East. Pope Catholic. Bear shits in woods. Film at 11. Seriously, I could look at that headline every few hours for a week. There's just a simple little humor in that I find rewarding.

• West Ham reject £9 million-plus bid for Craig Bellamy, with some reports having Upton Park valuing him at £15 million if Manchester City wants him. Ho, ho. That's a hoot. Liverpool buys him a few years back for £6.5 million, and though he almost single-handedly beat Barcelona at the Camp Nou in the Champions League and his "Rat" character ("Whaaaaaat?!") was a hoot in our then-regular battle for 4th, he showed his true colors and disappointed. He gets sold on to West Ham for £7.5 million – a high number I couldn't believe at the time – and now somehow his value has doubled. Worldwide recession? What worldwide recession? Hey, we've seen this little theater show before. Every few years, Bellamy rounds into form, bags a quick bunch of goals and then tricks a new club into a large fee. But £15 million? That's £4.5 million more than Liverpool paid for The Director, and a total still reserved for towering giants of the game, like what Everton paid for Marouane Fellaini, you know?

(Special free comedy bonus: Click that Everton-Fellaini link for a comical comparison to the engine room of the most dominant Premier League side of all time.)

Scroll, baby! Scroll!

In case you haven't been keeping your eyes on Ligue 1 in France, you may want to start.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Fergie, shut your mouth!

I clearly remember a few years ago going on a rant, imploring Manchester United and Sir Alex Jintao to get a hold of their players. He needed to get them under control, much in the same way we needed it out of Jose Mourinho when his players put in disgraceful display after disgraceful display of referee confrontation, intimidation and terrible stall tactics (anyone remember when they were about five minutes late to come out after halftime?).

Today, we've got the so-called "respect" campaign in full swing. The FA expect players to show more respect toward match officials. Right. Watch any match in the premier league at the moment and you'll see just how well that is working. Any single team, no one is immune. However, there are some that do indeed show themselves to be quite a bit more self-important than the others. It seems as if the players deem themselves to be chosen. By their very position in life, wealth, position in the league, and their manager's rhetoric, they are above everyone else. "Well, no, my dear, those rules don't apply to theeem! Surely you're mistaken, I mean, you know who I am, right? I assume you saw me on television, of course."

In particular, I'm casting my piercing glare further up the road to Old Trafford where yet again the players are empowered by their manager's silence as they run rampant across the pitch to pressure match officials. The way Ronaldo throws himself around the pitch, the way Rooney physically threatens officials whenever he dislikes a call, the way Nani (a relative nobody) postures and preens, the way Rio Ferdinand's face nearly explodes if he's ever deemed to have actually broken the laws of the game ("No! Rio, it couldn't be, not Rio!" Oh wait, never mind - dumbass.), the way they rush up to the official and grab him from behind to try to make their point (I can only imagine it's markedly unintelligible). Again, other teams are guilty, yes, but Manchester United push the envelope to the very brink while their manager sits back and whistles dixie - and at the same time he continues to call out other teams in every way shape or form. Is the man completely invulnerable to attack, slander, criticism or even a slap on the wrist?

Now this today as Sir Alex Jintao levels his tongue yet again and offers comments that will likely slide away into the void and add another layer of polish to the alternative reality he's so masterfully constructed over 20 years. The sad thing is that people keep buying it (except for the guy who tried to kick him in the yarbles, he ain't buying shit). 

Here's a thought, how about keeping your players in order, you intolerable nit. Your players prance around with an utterly holier than thou approach and for once, one of them is brought down to Earth and - shock! horror! - actually punished, and you launch yet another parade in astonishment. You might also consider keeping your mouth shut, or even letting it run only about yourselves, instead of constantly prattling on about everyone else's business. Whether you agree with the suspension or not, this newest (and slightest) ill to befall that dirty old man is summed up with one word, folks ...


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Job done

Sometimes you just have to catch your breath and appreciate the fact that the game was won. After all, we've been spending so much time all season wishing that Arsenal could just find a way to win. And after seeing the horror show of Liverpool's trip to Stoke yesterday, you realize how easily things can turn and a couple of points can be dropped. Bolton have played Arsenal well in the last several years, becoming quite the bogey team, but they truly showed no teeth on Saturday at the Emirates. With a tremendous amount of possession, Arsenal deserved the win. However, and worryingly, they still seemed to lack the extra step when they camped out around the 18-yard line (and now there's this news in the Arshavin hunt). Opportunities on net were scarce, far too scarce for a team that enjoyed so much of the possession. Everyone knows how difficult it can be to break down a team that comes only to defend (and I'm sure you'll hear Rafa and Arsene talk extensively about that this week), but, as Jim says below (Scroll, Baby! Scroll!) ... you gotta find a way.

Nasri was the main creative force, again. Diaby shows some decent touches from time to time but can't seem to take the next step he needs. I thought he'd give a go at a regular role earlier in the year but he's just not taking advantage of things. Denilson continues to look relatively absent on the pitch and Adebayor had a terrible game for some of his reputed quality. It's unfair to compare, but I'm going to ... with the chances he had, Thierry Henry scores more than one goal in that game (of course, he had Berkgamp to play off of ... imagine, then, the impact a player of Arshavin's quality could have) and the conversation the next day is much, much different. Rather than focusing on our possession and the lack of anything to show for it, we're talking - again - about the beautiful football on display at the Emirates.

Good for Bendtner to come on and get the winner. He's struggled to make much of an impact this year. Strikers are there to score goals and he needs to do it more regularly if he fancies himself as much as he says he does. Still, he's made a bit of a habit of nabbing the late winner.

Now sell him and put the money to use elsewhere.

A final word for the defensive pairing. With the exception of a quick moment of worries after our goal (which would have been terribly predictable at this point), Kolo Toure and Johan Djourou looked the part. They were tidy, efficient and showed a bit of something we've seen entirely too rarely.


Oh yeah, a final, final thought. Welcome to the Premier League Charlie Vela! Dios mio .. no better way to get acclimated then by getting torn down like a sequoia with crunching tackle after crunching tackle from those louts at Bolton. Good to see you get up with a smile though. I'd like to see Arsene try him out instead of Diaby next week. Why not? Put the boy on the left, slot Nasri in the middle and watch 'em fly.

Thank you, lads, more of the same please.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Thank you for your patronage: A Match Pricks record

This has been the most visited week in Match Pricks history. Colin and I are humbled by your interest in our rantings and ravings. We hope you like what you see and will keep coming back.

Scroll down one post to hear me have an Inernet frustration freakout over the match at Stoke. It'll be fun. You can laugh at me.

Thanks again for visiting Match Pricks.

You have to figure out a way to get the job done

Had I started writing this post within the first 10 minutes after the match at Stoke ended, it likely would have consisted of nothing more than a 500-word string of obscenities punctuated only by the occasional use of the words Delap, referee, towel, Stoke and the phrase, "I want to kill Lucas."

It was wholly unacceptable. There's no excuse. Stoke was the more likely to score at all times, and the best chance was Kuyt's early header from Riera's excellent cross. Why the world Kuyt attempted to flick it inside the far post when he had half the goal completely open 5 yards in front of him is beyond me. The keeper was nowhere near the play.

The pitch was poor and the ball bobbled throughout, making control much more difficult. Doesn't matter, you have to find a way. The referee appeared to take the approach that Stoke was going to foul at every 50-50 and contested ball, so he couldn't possibly call them all. Instead, he chose to call none of them. Doesn't matter, you have to find a way. Rory Delap was rubbing the ball in his shirt and a towel so much I felt as though watching the match was an invasion of his private bathroom routine. Doesn't matter, you have to find a way.

Stoke took their chances, but mostly they had no interest in attempting to score from open play. Their defense benefited from Liverpool's inability to control the ball on the dodgy pitch, but this is all ifs, would'ves and could'ves. It doesn't f**king matter. You have to find a good god damn way to score that one goal – and that's all that was required – to get the full points away to god damn Stoke F**king City.

Son of a bitch!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Uh, oh ...

Really, was right now the best time for Rafa to go after Sir Alex Jintao like a cornered badger?

Read that Guardian report, with all its journalistic additions, and then check out the transcript of his press conference from the official team site (scroll down a bit, just like you always do on Match Pricks).

To me, the comments in the transcript on the team site are much more inflammatory than the ones included in the Guardian piece. But the Guardian story, like all the other English papers on this, adds commentary comparing Rafa to Kevin Keegan's infamous, "I would love it ..." meltdown in '96. They even have a supplemental blog post asking if this was Rafa's "Keegan moment."

Hardly. I will say I disagree with Rafa's thinking that now is the time to lash out at Fergie. Obviously, the way this is going to play out in the media is going to please that little Scottish Jintao to no end. But I just don't see this as Rafa losing his cool. This is not a man given to capricious outbursts and unhinged displays. He likely keeps running notes about the quality and hunger-satisfying effectiveness of his daily breakfast.

The only similarity is that Keegan and Rafa were both sticking up for their teams. Keegan did it without thinking and in a completely ludicrous fashion. Rafa is saying what the Guardian and countless others have been pointing out for years: Fergie gets away with murder in his criticism of the referees.

But the king-bull ache of the English football media is to have this season come down to Liverpool and United, all the way to the final week. This hyping of Rafa's defense of his team's chances is just stoking the fire that will grow stronger the longer Liverpool and United are at the top this season. Look at all the "Scolari is a failure" stories. The media is bored with Chelsea. There's no juice there. This season, for hype purposes, is about Liverpool desperately chasing its first title in 19 years, all the while United keeps pace with them in hopes of equaling the Reds' English record of 18 domestic league titles.

Still, Rafa, baby, you're not exactly lowering the pressure here, kiddo. Hopefully, Carra instills his mental fortitude on his teammates and the locker room doesn't fall under the hype machine.