Wednesday, September 26, 2018
Monday, September 17, 2018
Notes on the 2018-19 title race with a different perspective. Writing with (and about) the enemy. By Sachin Nakrani and Simon Curtis
Liverpool 5 out of 5; City Strolling plus Merseyside Police With Smoke in their Eyes:
17th September 2018 – I do that Soccer Saturday Super 6 thing. You know the one - predict six scores correctly from six designated Saturday games that kick-off at 3pm and you could win a bundle of cash. It’s practically impossible to get right but also free to enter so, you know, might as well.
Manchester City versus Fulham was one of the six games on offer the Saturday just gone. I decided in 0.00000000000000001 seconds that City were going to win; all that was open to debate was by how many. Would it be six? Would it be seven? Could it be 10? In the end I went for 4-0 and absolutely fucking trust Pep’s boys to let me down.
3-0. Is that it? You lot serious? Frankly I don’t think you are?!
In all seriousness, this was the stroll most of us thought it was going to be and the only surprise was the margin of the triumph. Fulham arrived at the Etihad Stadium having conceded nine goals in their previous four games and no fewer than two in each of those. In other words, they’re not very good at defending and, as such, I expected City to well and truly put them to the sword. To rack up a hammering.
That appeared well and truly on when Leroy Sane scored after only two minutes, and while City continued to dominate they only scored two more, from David Silva and Raheem Sterling. “It could have been more than three goals,” Guardiola said afterwards - yes mate, it could have been four.
More than anything, Saturday’s win emphasised the depth of quality in City’s squad. Sane was making his first start of the season and simply picked up from where he left off last season while Bernardo Silva was magnificent, showing he absolutely has what it
takes to be David Silva’s long-term successor in east Manchester. The fact John Stones was able to have the afternoon off and Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus could come on for second-half cameos, stretching their legs but not having to exert themselves too much ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League opener against Lyon, told its own story.
It’s all going very nicely for City and it was certainly a nice touch making life-long fans Vera Cohen and Olga Halon mascots for the day. Aged 102 and 97 respectively they more than most appreciate just what a golden age this is for the club.
Vera and Olga will also know what a Liverpool title win looks like and, having been at Wembley on Saturday to see Jurgen’s boys make it five wins out of five with a commanding performance against Tottenham, I’m starting, for the first time this season, to believe. As Barney Ronay put it in the Guardian: “Get ready. It looks as though, this time, the Reds really are coming up the hill.”
God I hope so.
– Sachin Nakrani
14th September 2018 – Well, it took them a little while, but Mirror Sport in conjunction with Andrew Robertson have explained to us all how Liverpool can win the Premier League and Champions League this season. I'd been waiting for that. More on this shortly.
It took Merseyside Police a while too (really this time) but they have finally made their report on the disturbances before last spring’s Champions League quarter final at Anfield. As expected, It’s not exactly Wuthering Heights, but it does make for an intriguing read.
Liverpool Football Club will be relieved, if not wholly surprised, to find they have escaped further punishment. This on the grounds that the police were sadly unable - owing to the scarcity and poor quality of the mobile phone footage of the “event”, which lasted some 20 minutes, took place all along the length of the approach road to the ground and involved at its height a baying mob throwing bottles from a variety of prime positions, the best of which appeared to be the roof of several police vehicles – to glean clean footage of exactly what happened.
That is, there were youths throwing dangerous weapons at City’s bus from the roof of a police vehicle and they were neither apprehended, nor can they now be apprehended, for reasons outlined above.
What a relief it will be to the good people of Liverpool that they have no obvious reasons to start assuming they are living in a city that is open to complete anarchy and the perpetrators of said chaos can run off scot free into the woods, or any such similar growth that still exists between Widnes and the great rolling beyond that is the Irish Sea.
No, they can rest peacefully. Merseyside police were and are able to do their job to a satisfactory level. Only a month or so ago, to illustrate the point, the apprehension of no fewer than nine Italians, believed to be supporters of Roma, who caused affray in the first leg of the semi-final at the same venue, took place without fuss.
The Liverpool Echo brought us the good news thus: “Merseyside Police said the arrests were made in relation to various alleged offences - including attempted murder, affray, Section 47 assault, possession of offensive weapons, possession of a controlled drug, criminal damage and being drunk and disorderly”.
Perhaps they had been issued with heat-seeking binoculars on this occasion.
Pep Guardiola, seen exiting the bus on the big night and thanking Liverpool stewards and staff for their protection (the police were perhaps otherwise occupied trying to regain possession of their vehicles at the time), weighed in with his opinion, saying, “I’m not the police. The cameras were not good there”.
To put an end to an unseemly affair, there was a good deal of smoke wafting around Anfield on the aforementioned evening, making it very difficult to make out the difference between the real thing and tasteless cavorting about which, in its own way, is an apt enough metaphor for modern football itself. Take away the smoke, the mirrors and the hot words and sometimes what you have left is a shrivelled sausage and a slim-fit replica shirt.
Meanwhile, we were back to the action that matters after countless days of international friendlies and the unfathomable Nations League scrunching tediously into gear. Liverpool’s fifth consecutive win was only the third time in history they have managed such a feat from the Big Kick-off. Spurs, looking stretched, parched and short on ideas, were well beaten by Jurgen Klopp’s well organised side.
It is fair to say – and has already been said several times – that they look the real deal this season. How Liverpool square this excellent start with the fact it sees them only 2nd in the table is not clear. Take a look: New-look, vigorous Chelsea are top. City meanwhile are up to 3rd and strolling around like the season’s proper business is yet to begin.
It begins this week, in fact, with Champions League games beginning to clog up the fixture lists of the top sides. Liverpool face Paris St Germain, then, in four of the next five, Chelsea twice, Napoli and City. As Barney Ronay remarked enthusiastically in the Guardian “It looks as though, this time, the Reds really are coming up the hill. It was not that Liverpool played irresistibly well. This was not a performance to drive the imagination or a whirl of red pain for Tottenham. Instead this felt like something better”. Better even than red pain?
After the next five games, we will know for sure whether the Reds are coming up the hill or merely meandering over the bumps and troughs of yet another challenging Premier League campaign. In the same run of games, City will pit their wits against Lyon, Oxford, Cardiff, Brighton and Hoffenheim. When the two sides meet on Sunday 7th October, Liverpool may well be nursing one or two bruises from a very testing schedule, but Andrew Robertson will still be taking each game as it comes.
– Simon Curtis
Friday, September 7, 2018
Notes on the 2018-19 title race with a different perspective. Writing with (and about) the enemy. By Sachin Nakrani and Simon Curtis
3) INTERNATIONAL BREAK
5th September 2018 – We have not yet got to that stage of the season where commentators reporting on Liverpool’s progress assume a pitch and velocity that suggest imminent combustion, but it can’t be too far away. The international break has put a slight dampener on things, but we'll soon be up and running again.
Summer has come and gone, long and gentle though it was and the first chills of autumn suggest it is time to take a tight rein on our optimism. We are, after all, only four games in, so far in this nascent 2018-19 season.
Already, though, the signs are there, like clouds sitting atop volcanoes on a clear September morning, that Liverpool are made of stern enough stuff this year to stick around longer than last season. A title challenge is what it's being called. That challenge will – almost certainly – be levelled mainly at Manchester City, the title holders and most obvious obstacle to Liverpool’s ballooning ambitions.
International breaks are loathsome things for club managers and the first one of the season, coming just a matter of weeks after a start has been made, is particularly hard to bear.
Liverpool, at least, can take their early breather looking down on everyone else. Whether the fact that Chelsea and Watford form some kind of thin as mist buffer between them and City at this point is anything other than false security remains to be seen. Certainly two points is neither here nor there; the dropped points at Molyneux nothing to carp about and City’s early season form nothing to get your hopes up too high about either.
In short, there’s a heap of work to be done and nothing of note has happened yet anyway. Or has it? A certain Thomas Gronnemark might like us to think differently to start with.
Gronnemark, in case you had been trekking the most wifi-unfriendly outer reaches of the Faroe Islands for the last fortnight, is Liverpoool’s throw-in coach. Yes, football has moved on to this. We have been through speech therapists, used up the worldly wisdom and sharp elbows of press officers and heaped praise on goalkeeping coaches, so now it is high time the throw in got some attention.
Roy Delap may have brought the act of restarting play a certain amount of limelight, when he hurled a few game changers into the box on Stoke’s behalf a decade ago, but this, we are reliably informed, is different. This, we are confidently told, is about more possession, better possession, winning possession, dangerous possession. Already at the repeated mention of the magical word, you would assume, Pep Guardiola is cocking his head to get a better listen.
"I saw Joe Gomez take some really good throws for Liverpool that I had not seen him do before, he was fizzing it in there," said Ian Wright, using a tone that suggested this excited him more perhaps than it should have done.
Liverpool, in defeating Leicester City last time out, had 54 throw-ins. Sounds a lot? It is a lot. And Mr Gronnemark is insisting on Liverpool’s players using them properly. No Benjamin Mendy larking about here, just good solid, sensible throw-ins.
If this is one tiny crumb of evidence that Liverpool are leaving no stone unturned this season in their efforts to close the huge gap that separated the two sides in May last season (look away now, it was twenty-five (25) points), then – however tempting it is to ridicule – City must prepare themselves for a challenge that is being prepared in every meticulous detail. Scrupulous to the nth degree, Herr Klopp is leaving nothing to chance in his battle royale with Señor Guardiola.
May the most painstaking planner prevail. – Simon Curtis
5th September 2018 – I found myself thinking about Watford on Monday.
Not a usual occurrence but they had beaten Tottenham the day before to make it four wins out of four – a remarkable run and one which, going into the international break, makes them one of four teams to have a 100% record in the Premier League, alongside Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City.
Oh wait, City don’t have a 100% record. They drew one of their games ... with Wolves.
Now before you starting posting death threats through my letterbox, City fans - I’m not taking the piss. Quite the opposite, actually. Because in that moment I genuinely thought City had begun this season in typically serene fashion, swatting aside all-comers with their brand of intoxicating and ruthless football. That they haven’t remains a source of surprise.
As it is, three wins and a draw remains an excellent start for City, especially considering they have scored 11 goals in the process and conceded just three. Pep’s boys have also won away at Arsenal and will not be the only team to come unstuck against Wolves this year. Oh, and they hammered Huddersfield to within an inch of their life, while putting Newcastle in their place thanks to an absolute howitzer from Kyle Walker. I see he’s scoring goals now as well. Great.
The issue is that, by their own standards, not winning four out of four games feels like a small failure on City’s part. Maybe they won’t be as great as they were last season? Maybe us Liverpool fans can hope for glory, after all?
I remain unsure - City still look strong and have players to come into the mix who have so far been conspicuous by their relative absence, most notably Leroy Sane. The 22-year-old has made only one start this season, and that was in the Community Shield. Quite frankly I’m terrified what he’ll do, and what he’ll give City, when he comes back into the side properly, which I assume will be sooner rather than later.
So City have stumbled but by no means have they fallen going into the current break from domestic battle. Pep will hope his troops return from their respective international games in one piece ahead of the first real intense stage of the season; fixtures in midweek as well as at the weekend, including in the Champions League and er ... against Oxford United in the Carabao Cup.
Nothing has dissuaded me from the belief that, come May, City will be champions again. Well, it’ll either be them or Watford. - Sachin Nakrani
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