Tag Archives: liverpool

Matthew Pennington’s Merseyside Derby

Matthew Pennington, Everton’s 22-year-old ‘one of our own’ has been thrown into the first team this season through a combination of centre-back injuries and Koeman’s will to play a back three. He was highlighted in the Merseyside Derby by Gary Neville for failing to stop Philippe Coutinho cutting onto his right foot and shooting for Liverpool’s second goal.

It was with good reason, no matter how much Jamie Redknapp wanted to give the youngster the benefit of the doubt, and Pennington struggled with one-on-one moments like it for the 67 minutes that he was on the pitch.

True, Coutinho never should have got past Gueye, but the view from behind the goal shows clearly how Pennington’s weight and body were still moving to his right when Coutinho had skipped past the Everton midfielder. Ideally, you’d want to be balanced, and blocking the path to cut inside, facing the direction you want to show him. Pennington does one of these, the latter.

Pennington – Coutinho goal from EveryTeamNeedsARon on Vimeo.

Where Coutinho (and probably others who have similar trademark moves, Arjen Robben for example) can cause big problems is the way they can change their weight quickly in either direction, meaning that they can afford to make the angle of the initial cut wider.

Artists representation: The dotted line represents the usual path of a forward cutting inside, the fuller line the angle that causes problems. It means that the defender has to be more alongside the forward, which then leaves a bigger opportunity for them to sprint down the line.

This isn’t about Coutinho though. Throughout the match, Pennington looked wobbly on his feet. For Liverpool’s first, he nearly falls over as he backs away from Mané and as he recovers he takes out his team-mate Holgate, who could have helped cover if he hadn’t been put on the floor.

Then there was the moment a few minutes later when he – again faced with Coutinho one-on-one – was off-balance and swung a leg at thin air as the forward skipped past him. In fairness, it looks a little worse than it is, but it still isn’t exactly good.

Pennington waves a leg at Coutinho from EveryTeamNeedsARon on Vimeo.

You can put the imbalances and decisions down to nerves perhaps – he also miscontrolled a loose ball early on, the touch heavy and his step backwards too far and with too much weight put onto his heels, allowing Mané to almost nick the ball away. Despite this, he had some normal, regular, non-mess up touches on the ball in the latter part of the first half and in the part of the second when he was on the pitch.

He also looked like he was communicating decently with the rest of the defensive players, which is probably a relatively reassuring sign, that he wasn’t completely overwhelmed by the occasion. And he looked to be following Koeman’s instructions well, sticking to Coutinho or Firmino when they came into his zone and being positionally flexible between the reference points of Holgate at right wing-back and Ashley Williams as the central centre-back.

But then, even in the second half – presumably after a nice and calming chat with boss Ronald – he still looked uncertain in one-on-one situations.

Pennington – Showdown with Can from EveryTeamNeedsARon on Vimeo.

Pennington was subbed off in the 67th minute with Enner Valencia coming on as Everton changed shape, although he was the clear choice of the centre-backs to bring off.

I can’t profess to be a Pennington expert so this may not be representative of his game. He’s still young-ish, and didn’t look phased by playing in a back 3 and, on occasion, having to tuck into central midfield in the hole behind Davies and Gueye – so that’s relatively promising, at least.

I dunno, I don’t have any firmer conclusions than that. That was his Merseyside Derby.


Blast from the past – Southampton v Liverpool 01 March 2014

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there”

Looking back on the match between Southampton and Liverpool in March 2014 is like looking back on the current sides’ teenage years, spooling through their albums of Facebook photos. So much youth, so much possibility. So many Southampton players about to be picked off by bigger clubs…

This was a battle between a Pochettino who still used a translator to speak to the press, and a Brendan Rodgers chasing a Premier League title, both wanting to play with intensity.

The opening of the match was high-paced and transition-filled. For the first half hour, the two sides were rarely in their nominal starting formations, always in some stage of the process of pressing or recovering. Continue reading

Put your money where your hindsight is – week 4 of 4: The Predictions

It is, to be honest, a terribly miserable day outside as I write this. It is raining consistently and the sky is a light grey that can’t even be given the virtue of looking angry and threatening. There is a link to be made between a dull and depressing day and this weekend’s round of Premier League fixtures, but it would be best to just get on with making my final round of predictions in this trial ‘Put your money where your hindsight is’ series – a title which is something of a misnomer as I never put any money anywhere to begin with.

If you’re reading this, you’ll probably have read the previous posts, the first of which is here. I make predictions and give them a rating of 1-5 based on how confident I am about them, and then after the games have been played I rate how I did. I have not done wholly well thus far. If the weather is anything to go by, life’s pathetic fallacy, then I am probably unlikely to do well this week too.

Here are the confidence rating grades that I’ll be using:

1 – Guess. This is a hunch that I have. If I’m giving a 1 for a prediction though it probably means that it’s either very speculative but based on what I feel like is a good gut feeling, or it’s a filler.

2 – Hunch. A hunch I have based on a little more knowledge than a 1. Unlikely to just be a filler prediction, but may still be a little speculative.

3 – Waver. This means I’m wavering about whether I’m confident or not, I’m probably about 50/50 on whether I think it’ll happen.

4 – Confident. Quietly confident. Anything could happen, of course, but I certainly think this is more likely than not to happen.

5 – Bet. Not *dead* certain, nothing’s really a dead cert, but as close to one as I would be willing to say. I’m not a better, but I’d bet on this.


Prediction 1: Sturridge plays a more central role against Tottenham than he did against Burnley

Confidence rating: 2

This is a bit of second guessing Klopp here. Sturridge complained about being played out wide against Burnley, understandably saying that he prefers playing down the middle (and, unlike Theo “I’m a striker boss” Walcott, has the history to back it up). Sturridge playing as a left-hand side wide-forward didn’t really work last weekend, though the blame for this may well lie as much with Sturridge as it does his manager.

The striker didn’t look like he knew how to play in his role. Klopp’s desired system (as he mentioned in his response to Sturridge’s comments) is more like a rolling mass of advanced midfielders-cum-forwards than it is a defined formation, and Wijnaldum, Firmino, Coutinho, for example, seem to look like they understand it. Sturridge looked out of place for most of the match, coming too deep and looking lost. Of course, you could also say the blame lies with Klopp for not training Sturridge up well enough for this role and/or playing him in a role he isn’t comfortable with.

What Klopp says about players in the press doesn’t always tally with what happens on the pitch. After the full-back’s iffy display against Arsenal, Klopp supported Moreno publicly, saying that he was only doing what was asked of him. And yet Moreno didn’t play against Burnley or in the unusually strong line-up which faced Burton in the EFL Cup.

To my knowledge, Klopp didn’t say that Sturridge would continue to play out wide, but instead just defended his choice, but it may not be surprising to see a change for Sturridge. The likelihood of the striker playing as a striker may be increased by the strength of Tottenham’s defence, which may increase the necessity of a more conventional spearhead (or just for players to play where they are comfortable). Of course, Klopp may just decide he’s sick of Sturridge alternating between being injured or moaning and stick him out wide again.


Prediction 2: Manchester United scrape past Hull and there’s an awful lot of fretting about the wheels coming off the Mourinho bus (not, surprisingly, an intentional reference to it being parked).

Confidence rating: 2

Manchester United, although having won 3-1 and 2-0, have not quite been as convincing as their two results so far have suggested. While they created 1.9 Expected goals against Bournemouth (per Michael Caley’s map), a large chunk of this came from Simon Francis’ backpass-bad bounce double backfire, and the team only created 0.7 xG against Southampton (at home). The Zlatan header and gift of a penalty from Jordy Clasie also masked some vulnerabilities on the defensive side for United, looking a little unsteady when facing counters (although Southampton never produced many actual good chances).

Hull, meanwhile, looked genuinely good and well organised defensively in their win against Leicester, and won again against Swansea. Fill-in manager Magic Mike Phelan (now there’s an image for you) also knows United, having been assistant manager to Sir Alex Ferguson for the five years before the Scot’s retirement. He may not be an expert of Mourinho’s system, but he will certainly have a lot of useful knowledge about a good number of the players. I don’t expect them to win, but I do think that there is a strong possibility that Hull could give United a hard time.



Yeah, that’s all folks. Tune in on Monday to see how I did.


Liverpool’s centre-back rebuilding job is one I do not envy

Liverpool are in a tricky spot regarding centre-backs. Skrtel’s agent has said that he’s 90% sure to be leaving, Kolo Touré seems like he might be going too, and Mamadou Sakho is awaiting a ban which may lead to the club Sakhing him (sorry).

That leaves Dejan Lovren, unpredictable under Rodgers but more solid under Klopp, and Joel Matip as the players on the board for next season. At the least, Liverpool will have to bring two more central defenders into the first team squad.

This would be a difficult task at the best of times, but this season will perhaps be the all-time peak in terms of centre-back transfers among the top clubs. Manchester City, Manchester United, and Chelsea will all definitely be in the market around Liverpool’s level, and Everton may be too depending on how they choose to reinvest what seems sure to be a large amount of money they receive for John Stones. Arsenal might want to bring someone in as Koscielny and Mertesacker age. Leicester might want to upgrade their centre-halves and, hell, there’s a slim chance Spurs might want to bring in another young back-up to Alderweireld and Vertonghen as well. Continue reading


Liverpool vs Sevilla – Europa League final match report

From the start, this Europa League final had been a disappointing affair for Liverpool Football Club. The 10,000 tickets for their fans, and these fans being warned that accommodation in Basel was all sold out, can now be re-written as signs from the footballing gods. The comeback against Dortmund too, defying all reasonable odds and expectations. “You weren’t meant to be here”, they whisper through the fabric of time, “You weren’t meant to be here”.

At half-time, though, Liverpool will have felt like they were exactly where they belonged, winning a European final. Oh, how the gods like to toy with us.

The first period of the match, until Sturridge’s fantastic strike, was a fairly even affair. Neither side had really clicked, and there had been very few real chances. Sevilla seemed to want to play direct, but ran into the Liverpool defence and midfield, who were also counter-pressing whenever they lost the ball. Continue reading


Believe it or not, Van Gaal’s United are improving, but too little and too late

The consensus was that Manchester United’s defeat against Liverpool in the first leg of the Europa League was an abject performance which sums up why Louis van Gaal should be sacked, showing no redeeming features or progress. It certainly wasn’t great, but nor was it completely abject and United’s players (this wording is chosen specifically) actually showed some progress.

For the entire season, Van Gaal has wanted to implement a kind of ‘positional play’ type of season, the sort of thing that Pep’s Bayern do. It takes a lot of discipline and a hell of a lot of teaching time to make these kinds of things happen. When rigorous systems are pulled off, however, they work very well – see Pochettino at Southampton and now Spurs, and both of those took time to come to fruition.

Back in October against Arsenal, in that 3-0 defeat, United were playing a system of pressuring when off the ball that only Bastian Schweinsteiger seemed to understand, below getting a little frustrated with Martial for not following up his own pressing efforts. Continue reading


3 things we learned* from Sunday’s football

*[the word ‘learned’ is used in the loosest possible sense, as it is for all ‘things we learned’ articles]

1. Goalkeepers are either heroes or villains.

Willy Caballero came into the League Cup final a ready-made villain of the piece, a prepared and packaged reason for City failure. Even before the deciding penalty shoot-out he was making pundits say that he had deserved his place with the saves he had made.

Simon Mignolet was a villain after letting in Fernandinho’s goal, a strike from a tight angle that seemed to pass straight through him. By the end of the match, he was redeemed, after having made several fine saves.

Perhaps this is an illustration of the bizarre way in which we see these players. We only notice them when they make horrific blunders or highlight-reel saves, and because of the nature of their position and the infrequency of goals in football, their errors tend to be costly.

(Compare it to the American counterpart – Continue reading