Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Klopp's Possible Ticket to Europe Papers the Cracks

So, that Capital One/Carling/Magners/Burger King Cup match was just awful, wasn't it? I saw the words "tense" and "nail-biting" bandied around quite a lot, but can only assume this is down to the disproportionate amount of ex-Liverpool players/managers (and supporters?) in the media.

Liverpool may yet find that beating Manchester City or Everton in the final is their best chance of Europe next season. Klopp's squad seems ill-suited to the task of overcoming teams that sit back. I think we all worried that would be the case with the German's style of play. And I think he realises he needs major surgery on his squad. They are certainly buying into his heavy metal style of play, which is a good sign. Yet with no poise on the ball, they need the acres of space that is not afforded them when they come up against the better-organised teams.

Ironically, this means they will probably win their final, with neither Everton or City renowned for the type of obdurate spoiling that Stoke are capable of on nights like last. For the week-in-week-out grind of the Premier League, however, this will be a period when they really miss Philippe Coutinho. How Klopp must rue the fact that his predecessor was so trigger happy with the £115 million (!!!) raised over the last two years through the sales of Sterling and Suarez. In fact, if I was him, I would argue that the net spend of late has probably still not been thaaat bad.

I hate to speculate on cherry-picking of plucky underdogs, but Riyad Mahrez must surely be on the minds of a few top-half managers. Why he would want to swap almost guaranteed Champions League football for a probable Europa League marathon is beyond me, but just a thought!

Also, we need to talk about Christian Benteke. He has replaced Mario Balotelli a little too snugly for the liking of a few, I'm sure. For more than double the transfer fee too! His fall from grace is alarming, to say the least, but let's not forget he went through a couple of dry spells at Villa. He could do with a confidence-boosting run towards the season's end to try and keep his place for next year.

Simon Mignolet too may yet be able to build on the well-earned hero status of last night and put some of his own roots down. But Liverpool's inability to defend a high ball was sorely obvious. Until this is sorted, a counter-attacking Klopp special in the cup final may be the Pool's main hope of Euro action in the near future.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Fork In The Barrack Road

I started a post with this title nine days ago, leading on the point that while Jonjo Shelvey and Henri Saivet were good players, they were not the strengthening that was required. Judging by the five goals and four points that came Newcastle's way since then, I was perhaps being a bit pessimistic!

Let no-one be fooled, though, finishing is still a big problem on Tyneside. Aleksandr Mitrovic is a fine player, but whether through lack of confidence or killer instinct is not someone to reliably finish off a move.

The build-up and excitment to the West Ham game was dampened somewhat with the news that Charlie Austin had made a snip of a £4 million move to Southampton. Among all the hype of "Wow! What a great deal!" it was perhaps overlooked that Austin's contract expires in the summer, so QPR were lucky to get anything for him. Given that they are marooned in mid-table, far from either play-off contention or relegation sweats, it was perhaps the prudent financial decision to get a bit dollah into the coffahs.

If Southampton get anything approaching double figures in goals from the striker, the powers-that-be at Newcastle may take a good, hard look at themselves and ask themselves why they let such a deal get away from them. Saido Berahino, at 22, has perhaps the higher all-important sell-on potential, but arguably also the higher risk of being a petulant child judging by his recent time at West Brom. Then again, is Tony Pulis really the one to get the best out of a maverick youngster? Heck, is Steve McClaren?!

Speaking of apparently questionable characters, what a debut from Shelvey. At times I thought I was watching Barcelona (As a Newcastle fan I am starved of any killer passes, so forgive my OTT-ness). It was as comfortable a 2-1 win as I have seen in awhile. Even when we came under a bit of pressure in the second half, I always felt confident we had a third goal in us, and Mitrovic did a good job of holding up play, although sometimes his distribution/finishing lacks a bit of conviction.

With Watford next on the horizon, a swift revenge should be on the menu. The 1-0 FA Cup defeat with a full strength side was the final straw in terms of what we had. An injection of quality to the squad was needed and has been delivered. However it is imperative not to stop there. At least one striker and a left-back are a must. While Newcastle have improved of late, all the bottom sides, including Aston Villa, have made their own gains. Standing still is not an option, and trying to do so will lead to a well-deserved relegation for any of the contenders.