The Rise of Merseyside, the Premier League’s biggest story in 2013/14

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Arguably the biggest story of the 2013/14 Premier League season is the rise of Merseyside.

Sorry, Jose Mourinho.

Apologies, Manuel Pellegrini.

You’re welcome, David Moyes.

No question the narratives involving Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United are highly important to the storyarc of this Premier League season but they have nothing on what’s been going on at Liverpool and Everton.

The similarities in management, style of play, personnel and achievement are what make these two clubs so remarkable.

Blessed with innovative managers in Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez, both clubs are dedicated to possession-oriented, attacking football. The two former Swansea bosses are tactical geniuses, constantly shuffling formations and personnel given the opposition.

This season Rodgers and Martinez have deployed formations of 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2, 4-4-3, with the former also utilizing 3-5-2, a shape that the latter favored while at Wigan but has prudently held off using at Everton. With the exception of the occasional Steven Gerrard Hollywood-ball or the Sylvain Distin panic-clearance, both Merseyside clubs prefer their football played on the carpet, and with blistering pace.

source:  Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson are flyers for the Reds, much in the same vein as Kevin Mirallas, Ross Barkley, Gerard Deulofeu, Romelu Lukaku and Aiden McGeady are lightning for the Blues.

The result? Bags of goals scored from all over the park.

The main difference between the sides is money and therefore, talent, to which Liverpool enjoys the obvious edge. At least, for now, Lukaku is by no means a striker of the same quality of Suarez or Sturridge. Similarly, Gareth Barry is not on the same level as Gerrard although the City loanee has been a revelation since pulling on the Toffee blue and will likely sign a permanent deal with the club this summer. Yet in a world where big money trumps all and Rodgers enjoys the backing of a rich board eager to pay huge sums to make European dreams a reality, Martinez’ fixed budget requires a bit more clever finessing to build a squad.

The other slight leg up Liverpool has on Everton is in leadership. True to the chant, there is only one Steven Gerrard. Captain Fantastic. Stevie G. Whatever you call him, he leads the men around him with such an infectious air of confidence that his impressive toll of 13 goals and 9 assists serves as a mere footnote. Everton captain Phil Jagielka, notably, is a tremendous leader as well, one of the many reasons he will be a surefire starting center-back for England in the 2014 World Cup. But when all is said and done and Gerrard retires there’s little question he’ll go down as the best leader to have served a Premier League club.

The fact then, that Liverpool and Everton are each in prime position for a massive achievement this season makes sense. Liverpool were not title favorites coming into the year but beating the likes of Manchester United, Tottenham, Everton and Arsenal, as well as ripping off nine straight wins to head into the final stretch of the season has a way of making that a reality. Similarly, the Toffees tossed aside Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal this season while winning six on the bounce to put them in position to finish 4th and qualify for the Champions League.

source:  Not to get ahead of ourselves or jinx either squad. The story has yet to run its course and neither side will be patting itself on the back with just five weeks remaining. It’s difficult, however, to have gone through the last two years of Manchester domination and not feel, even at this point in time, like we are witnessing the rise of Merseyside.

Against each other Liverpool and Everton are rivals but together, they are brothers linked by a city, an accent, a philosophy, a style of play, and, as we will see this weekend, the 25th anniversary of the greatest tragedy in British football.

Take note.

Everton loses Coleman to leg break on Ireland duty

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A horror tackle from Wales’ Neil Taylor snapped Seamus Coleman‘s leg in gruesome fashion on Friday.

Taylor was given a red card, and Coleman was stretched off the pitch in the 0-0 draw.

[ MORE: UEFA World Cup qualifying wrap ]

Ireland manager Martin O’Neill confirmed what was apparent from the match replay: the Everton man has a broken ankle.

“It’s a bad break. He’s a fantastic player and character. It’s a major blow for the lad, his club and us.

“Apparently it wasn’t the best challenge in the world – I haven’t seen it. He’s gone to hospital. I saw his reaction immediately and it didn’t look good. He was holding is leg up and it didn’t look good.

This is not only awful for the player, but causes stress as Everton mounts its assault on the Top Six. The right back has also manned right mid for Ronald Koeman this season, and has four goals and four assists in 26 Premier League matches.

Mason Holgate, Muhamed Besic, and Phil Jagielka have played some right back for Everton, while Ramiro Funes Mori has deputized at left back.

Emotional McClean speaks after honoring deceased teammate (video)

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After wearing the No. 5 to honor of his recently deceased teammate, James McClean met with the media following Ireland’s 0-0 draw with Wales in World Cup qualifying on Friday.

McClean played with Ryan McBride at Derry City, and left Ireland camp to attend funeral services after McBride died following a match last weekend. McClean was also mourning the death of friend and Sinn Féin politician Martin McGuinness.

Throw in a gruesome injury to teammate Seamus Coleman and, in McClean’s words, “I’ve had better weeks”.

[ MORE: UEFA World Cup qualifying wrap ]

McClean, 27, spoke with evident emotion following a Man of the Match turn in Ireland’s draw (video below).

“It was a really tough week. The lads here have been great. They rallied around me. The manager was first class as well. He let me go up to Derry there on Tuesday and say my goodbyes. It’s been a tough week with Seamus injury as well. It’d been nice if we had have got a win and ended on a positive note, but it wasn’t to be.

“(McBride and McGuinness) were going through my thoughts today. I wanted to put in a performance that would make them proud. In the national anthem and the moment’s applause, holding my wee girl, it was emotional but I tried to put that in the right way into my performance. Hopefully tonight I’ve done the lads proud.”

World Cup qualifiers: Wales in trouble; Buffon hits 1000

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Friday’s matches mark the midway point of the main round of qualifying in UEFA, and the tables remain tight near the top of Groups D and G.

[ MORE: Smalling hurt, Gibson called up ]

Group I, however, is seeing some distance between first and second thanks to Croatia’s result versus Ukraine.

Republic of Ireland 0-0 Wales

Neil Taylor was sent off in the 69th minute for Wales, whose World Cup hopes are in trouble.

Seamus Coleman was stretchered off after the tackle, with a scary-looking injury that will leave Everton fans sick in more ways than one. Coleman’s leg was broken, and left dangling by the challenge.

Ireland couldn’t take advantage of the sending off, and failed in a bid to overtake Serbia for first in Group D. The Irish trail on goal differential, and will host Serbia on Sept. 5.

But Wales will rue the result more, remaining four points back of second-place Ireland. Chris Coleman’s side drops a point behind Austria as well, and will not have Taylor or Gareth Bale (card accumulation) in its next match. That comes against leaders Serbia.

Italy 2-0 Albania

Daniele De Rossi scored a 12th minute penalty kick won by Andrea Belotti, and Ciro Immobile scored late to provided the goals in Gianluigi Buffon’s 1000th appearance for club and country. Fittingly, it ended in a clean sheet. The match was briefly delayed after flares were thrown onto the field.

Spain 4-1 Israel

David Silva, Vitolo, and Diego Costa stakes the Spaniards to a three-goal lead, with Lior Refaelov ruining David De Gea‘s clean sheet with 11 minutes to play. Isco scored the match’s final goal.

Spain remains atop Group G on goal differential, eight better than second place Italy. Israel is four points behind both.

Croatia 1-0 Ukraine

Fiorentina’s Nikola Kalinic’s 38th minute goal was enough for the hosts, and Croatia is now five points clear of Ukraine and three above Iceland midway through qualifying.

Elsewhere
Austria 2-0 Moldova — RB Leipzig’s Sabitzer nabs winner
Liechtenstein 0-3 Macedonia — Ilija Nestorovski bags brace
Kosovo 1-2 Iceland — Sigurdsson PK the match winner
Georgia 1-3 Serbia — Mitrovic, Tadic lead the way
Turkey 2-0 Finland — Brace for Cenk Tosun

Boro’s Gibson called to England after injury to Man Utd’s Smalling

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Scoring goals has been the biggest problem for Middlesbrough in its return to the Premier League, and that overshadows how well the Northeast club has defended its own goal.

Ben Gibson has been a huge part of that, and now he’ll earn the chance to represent his nation thanks to an injury to Chris Smalling. Gibson will join England ahead of Sunday’s home World Cup qualifier against Lithuania.

[ MORE: Podolski leads Germany past England ]

Gibson has far and away been Boro’s best player, leading the side in blocked shots and clearances. The blocked shots total is tied for ninth in the Premier League, 11 behind current leader and new England teammate Michael Keane.

Smalling’s undisclosed injury is a bigger problem for Manchester United, which had already lost center back depth on England duty when Phil Jones was hurt.