Quick Six: Gerrard’s slip, Mourinho’s gambit, and the rest of the headlines from the PL weekend

Leave a comment

1. Oh, Steven Gerrard

By Sunday night, Brendan Rodgers’ fixation on a pair of buses dominated headlines, but whether they were unintentional or clever, the sentiments only served to distract from the bigger stories surrounding Liverpool’s loss. Just as we had become comfortable with the idea the Reds would claim their first Premier League title, a 2-0 loss at home to Chelsea has handed control to Manchester City, with the team captain’s mistake allowing José Mouinrho’s largely second-choice lineup to take control at Anfield.

Of course, we can cite an array of mitigating factors to say Gerrard’s slip, giveaway, and inability to recover on Demba Ba’s late first half goal could have been offset. But we also know, against a team choosing to set up like Chelsea, the first goal could very well decide it. Sentimentally, we want to cast the importance of Gerrard’s mistake in a softer light. Practically, we may end up understating its severity.

(MORE: Liverpool 0-2 Chelsea: Blues stun leaders after Gerrard’s blunder)

Gerrard’s time at Liverpool had become one of the ledes when framing the Reds’ resurgence. Between 16 seasons at the club, his chances to leave, and his connection to Hillsborough, Gerrard’s personal story had become second only to the club’s revival when describing the significance of this title run. If his slip costs ends up being the difference, it will be too cruel.

(MORE: Rodgers slams Mourinho’s defensive tactics after loss)

2. José Mourinho’s “bluff” comes good

As the Chelsea manager threatened to start a second choice team at Anfield on Sunday, many onlookers were ready to call his bluff. Surely those were mere mind games. Then came a team where only one, maybe two players were both starters and playing in their normal position. Just as he’d threatened to do after drawing in Madrid, Mourinho put all his eggs in the Champions League basket.

But metaphorical eggs don’t win games. Players do, as does strong planning and, sometimes, good fortune. All three went in Mourinho’s favor on Sunday. His choices may have selected reserves, but those reserves played well, executing a plan that gave the team its best chance to stay in the title race. Along the way, it also preserved Mourinho’s key talents for Wednesday at Stamford Bridge.

This all circles back to our first point, though. Chelsea were going to have a difficult time getting out of Anfield with a win unless it got some help. Given Mourinho’s selection and tactics, Gerrard’s error looms even larger.

3. Manchester City solves Palace, takes control of title destiny

We’re still not so used to Crystal Palace being good that we’re ready to laud City’s 2-0 win at Selhurst Park. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t, though. As both Chelsea and Everton found out recently, Crystal Palace is capable of derailing various levels of European aspiration. The Eagles posed the same challenge to City’s title hopes.

So let’s laud. City not only managed the challenge at Selhurt; it broke through after four minutes. Yaya Touré’s return to the team put the Citizens up two at half time. They held Tony Pulis’s side to a mere three shots and did something no other team’s done since March. They beat Crystal Palace.

(MORE: Crystal Palace 0-2 Manchester City: Pellegrini’s men grab upper hand for title)

This is how talented teams are supposed to manage the Eagles, but it’s rarely actually happened. Palace had entered the game one a five-game winning streak and a chance to move into the top half. To City’s credit, that didn’t happen, with the Citizens’ performance showing the lessons of an up-and-down campaign could pay off in a hardened team’s title run.

4. Giggs restores sanity to Old Trafford as Van Gaal inches closer

Forgive Manchester United fans’ elation at a big win over Norwich City, but given what they’ve been through this season, fixating on one good result (no matter the opponent) is understandable. Their winter is finally over. The gloom that met each day of that final, grey season has given way to something brighter. Thanks to braces from Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata, Ryan Giggs’ managerial debut ended with 4-0 win over the visiting Canaries – a result that felt as much a rebuke of David Moyes’ era as the dawn of a new one.

(MORE: Manchester United 4-0 Norwich City: Giggs Era is off to a fantastic start (video))

That new one is inching closer. Monday morning headlines in England reflect what people have not-so-secretly whispering for months: Louis Van Gaal is going to be the next manager at Old Trafford. There was no secret handshake, nor were there any other promises made, but since mid-February — when Van Gaal has started aiming for the move amid news Moyes could be fired post-Olympiakos — all the pieces have lines up. The non-sensical idea that Carlo Ancelotti might leave Real Madrid for the post only confirmed the notion Van Gaal was the likely choice.

If United close the season as strong as it played on Saturday, some will call for Giggs to get a shot. His day will come, but that day’s not now. Van Gaal is the perfect choice to lift United back into the top four. After two years of him, though, the team will be ready to anoint Giggs their next chosen one.

5. Sunderland surge out of the drop

The Canaries’ loss was only the latest step toward what’s become an inevitable relegation, with a difficult closing stretch giving Norwich only faint hopes of climbing out of the bottom three. If that squad’s in need of inspiration, however, they need look no further than the team above them in the table. Closing out an 12-day, seven-point stretch, Sunderland’s 4-0 victory over Cardiff City vaulted the team out of the bottom three for the first time this season, with Gus Poyet’s side sitting 17th after Sunday’s result.

The loss leaves Cardiff City, the other club seemingly destined to go down, in last place, with only Fulham separating them from Norwich City. Given how the Whites have played under Magath, they’re capable of staying up, but they’ll need help from with Sunderland or Aston Villa. They’ll also need to avoid more disappointments like Saturday’s against Hull City.

Given the Villans were trounced 4-1 at Swansea on Saturday, Aston Villa looks most likely to oblige. Paul Lambert’s team has not won a game in six weeks.

 

source:
http://www.liverpoolfc.com

6. Luis Suárez – PFA Player of the Year

In one of the easiest votes in recent history, Luis Suárez’s peers made the right choice, handing out an award that’s been destined to go to the Uruguayan ever since Aaron Ramsey was injured this fall. Even if the Arsenal midfielder had stayed healthy, though, he would have had the near-impossible task of keeping up with one of the most prolific seasons in league history. Despite finishing up a carry-over suspension at the beginning of the season, Suárez has 30 goals – 11 more than the next non-Liverpool player on the Premier League’s scoring charts.

When Suárez came over from Ajax in 2011, most dismissed the notion he would ever replicate the ridiculous scoring rates he posted in the Netherlands. After all, the Eredivisie is a league where defense is only a theory. Yet after scoring 55 times over his last two Premier League seasons, Suárez has rekindled the notion. In his last two full seasons in Amsterdam, Suárez has 57 goals.

Suárez has turned the Premier League into the Eredivisie, as ridiculous as that sounds. In that light, a Player of the Year honor seems insufficient. I’m not saying we should create a Destroyer of English Leagues honor, but if we did, Suárez would be the lead contender for it.

Barcelona plan Cruyff tribute at club’s training center

Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images
Leave a comment

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) One year after his death, Barcelona says it will name the future stadium at its training center after Dutch great Johan Cruyff.

The new stadium at Barcelona’s training center just outside the Catalan city will be called “Johan Cruyff Stadium” in honor of the club’s former player and coach.

Barcelona says in a statement that “the most emblematic building in the facility where future Barca players are coached is to be named after somebody who played such a central role in fostering youth talent at the club.”

Barcelona also says it will commission a “commemorative sculpture” of Cruyff, who died of lung cancer on March 24 last year at age 68. The statue will be placed at Barcelona’s main Camp Nou stadium.

Cruyff is largely credited with launching Barcelona’s era of trophy success, both as a player and a coach.

As a player, Cruyff joined Barcelona midseason in 1973 and led the middle-of-the-table team to its first national title in a decade.

He later returned as a coach and guided Barcelona to four consecutive Spanish leagues from 1991-94 and the club’s first European Cup in 1992.

“I think the tributes are very warming,” said Cruyff’s son, Jordi Cruyff. “It sort of changes the sadness that we might feel as family to lose a father, a husband and a grandfather. It changes to a certain kind of pride to understand that he left something behind.”

MLS Snapshot: Defense optional — Crew SC outlast Timbers, 3-2

AP Photo/Bryan Woolston
Leave a comment

The game in 100 words (or less): As far as teams who get out in the open field and score the lion’s share of their goals on the counter-attacking, there aren’t many MLS teams better than Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers. The two sides met Saturday night at MAPFRE Stadium, site of their MLS Cup 2015 clash, and lived up to their reputations. Of the five goals scored, two were notched on flat-out counters and two more came to pass through quick transitional movements. Portland (9 points) dropped their first points of the season, falling 3-2 to goals scored by Justin Meram, Ola Kamara and Niko Hansen, while Crew SC have back-to-back wins and find themselves level on points (7) with the New York Red Bulls with each side having played four games.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS (afternoon) roundup ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

4′ — Asprilla opens the scoring early on — 2017 Crew SC defending, same as 2016 Crew SC defending.

11′ — Meram fires home the rebound for 1-1 — One of Portland’s biggest weaknesses last season was their set-piece defending. Looks like not much has changed.

19′ — Higuain feeds Kamara for a 2-1 lead — The question mark that Portland will eventually have to answer is this: How much, if at all, have they improved defensively in the open field? Based on this Crew SC counter-attack, the answer might be “not much.”

45+3′ — Adi recovers to make it 2-2 — Everything Adi does these days (even the bad things, like this first touch) ends up being good.

84′ — Hansen cleans up at the back post for 3-2 — Jake Gleeson made a spectacular reaction save to deny Kamara his second goal of the game, but the rookie, making his MLS debut, was in the right place at the right time.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Wil Trapp

Goalscorers: Asprilla (4′), Meram (11′), Kamara (19′), Adi (45+3′), Hansen (84′)

Andorra’s 11-year, 58-game losing streak is over

Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Rarely has a scoreless stalemate in front of the home fans tasted so sweet.

But 11 years of nothing but losing will do that to a team.

Andorra’s 0-0 draw with fellow minnow Faroe Islands in World Cup qualifying on Saturday ended its run of 58 competitive defeats.

It was the first point in qualifying for the Pyrenees mountain principality, population 80,000, since a scoreless draw with Finland in 2005.

Faroe Islands finished with 10 men after Joan Edmundsson was booked a second time with 15 minutes to play.

World Cup qualifiers: Dutch disaster persists; Greece hold Belgium

AP Photo/Armando Franca
Leave a comment

A roundup of all of Saturday’s World Cup qualifying fixtures, as Groups A, B and H hit the halfway point in Europe…

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Bulgaria 2-0 Netherlands

Spas Delev scored both Bulgarian goals (5th and 20th minutes) to secure all three points and send Danny Blind’s Netherlands side (7 points) into fourth place in Group A, six points back of leaders France and three back of second-place (qualifying playoffs) Sweden.

17-year-old Matthijs de Ligt was handed his international debut for the Dutch; he was ultimately at fault for both of Delev’s goals; he was subbed off at halftime (as was Georginio Wijnaldum).

Luxembourg 1-3 France

Olivier Giroud scored twice (28th and 77th minutes) for France, and Antoine Griezmann added the other (37th minute – penalty kick), as Les Bleus maintained their three-point lead in Group A. Kylian Mbappe, Monaco’s 18-year-old rising star, made his international debut in the 78th minute, when he replaced Dimitri Payet.

Portugal 3-0 Hungary

Cristiano Ronaldo bagged the 69th and 70th goals of his international career (36th and 65th minutes), as Portugal (12 points) kept pace with an unbeaten Switzerland side (15 points) which managed a 1-0 victory over Latvia to keep their 100-percent record intact. Andre Silva scored the opener (32nd minute) for Portugal, the 21-year-old Porto striker’s fifth goal in six international appearances.

Belgium 1-1 Greece

Romelu Lukaku‘s 89th-minute rescued a point for Group H leaders Belgium (13 points), but it did little to mask an otherwise uninspiring performance from Roberto Martinez’s side. Kostas Mitroglu put Greece ahead in the first minute of the second half, but Panagiotis Tachtsidis saw his second yellow of the game in the 65th minute, and that was the start of Greece’s unraveling. The draw was just enough to keep Greece (11 points) in second, ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose 5-0 thrashing of Gibraltar moved them to 10 points with a superior goal differential.

Elsewhere in UEFA’s World Cup qualifying

Group A

Sweden 4-0 Belarus

Group B

Switzerland 1-0 Latvia
Andorra 0-0 Faroe Islands

Group H

Bosnia-Herzegovina 5-0 Gibraltar
Cyprus 0-0 Estonia