TERRACE TALK: Reaction from the weekend's top Premiership action

TERRACE TALK: Reaction from the weekend's top Premiership action

LIVERPOOL

By Steven Kelly

So the first real setback might be the fatal one? It’s tough at the top, feel free to quote me on that.

Lucky Chelsea had that semi-final — otherwise God knows what else would have got said.

Even in distracted mode, ‘he’ said enough. I’m not sure Mourinho knows where method ends and madness begins any more.

By definition a ghost goal should haunt, but nine years?

When you’ve won more titles, more plaudits, even another European Cup since? The irony is that Chelsea buried that memory without Mourinho’s help: two CL ties, Wembley and of course Munich.

But the Spesh believes in well-nursed grievances and vengeance was necessary, so everyone dutifully followed the snide sniper. Which also meant a week of panic — what else is new? — for Liverpool fans.

Seven days of fear: that the man who punctured City’s Etihad dominion could do the same for Anfield: that the Holy Grail dangling before our eyes could vanish in a puff of Portuguese smoke: that this was all one long practical joke at our salivating, misty-eyed expense.

Worst still, that Rodgers was always playing Salieri and Mourinho was really the annoying, cackling man-child who probably laughs at his own farts but still has unquestionable gifts. That feeling of dread increased when Cech collapsed, Terry collapsed, Ramires was banned and Hazard disappeared. This was too good to be true, surely?

Chelsea, their fans especially, need Liverpool to remain “history” even if it’s City who’d ultimately benefit. It suits their narrative, the old swept away by the new while clasping a faded CV that will crumble into dust if not updated pretty soon.

Should we cry over the first league loss in four months? In a way: the doggedness and discipline under pressure that Chelsea displayed from the off has been almost completely absent from Liverpool’s play. I’ve often been told our style makes ‘that sort of thing’ irrelevant. Begging over differences to follow.

By the 20th minute we knew this was the real deal. Everton, Arsenal, even City all came to Anfield feeling a change in style or sitting back was beneath them. That’s how Mourinho does what he does.

Ego? Maybe he should have played it differently in Madrid and Liverpool because he said those meanie-moo things about Spurs’ bus and West Ham’s century, but none of that mattered. What he needed was what was delivered. If he had to be called a hypocrite, what of it? He was even acting like a Selhurst Park ball-boy yesterday. Nothing is beyond the pale.

Of course the Reds are a work in progress, everybody knows it and somehow they find themselves (still) in this freakish situation. It remains to be seen if Brendan will ever attempt to add the extra string to his bow that might make him a maestro, but it didn’t sound like it afterwards and there was so much garbage beforehand about the pupil becoming the master some of us flinched in advance.

Both goals came in the extra minutes Chelsea themselves fabricated, adding insult to injury time, but since there was no zest and purpose to the home side’s play after being well stifled before the opening goal there’s nothing to be gained by complaining about it.

It would be Gerrard, wouldn’t it? Luis Garcia was wheeled out before the game, and Rodgers ended up complaining about double-deckers. There was hubris everywhere you turned. The captain’s mistake was compounded by a relentless pursuit of the glory equaliser, but Coutinho and Johnson were equally off the pace and Suarez was just poor. In fact there were off days all over the pitch, but five days ago Atletico looked equally ragged and toothless while Mark Schwarzer didn’t have much to do.

Could be coincidence, I suppose. Hopes of a City defeat down south were forlorn within an hour, so who does that leave as proxy saviours now? Everton.

We’ll give it another go next year.

CHELSEA

By Trizia Fiorellino

I’m not sure what I enjoyed most the game itself, the fact it was Gerrard’s error which led to the opening goal, Jose’s post-match press conference or Brendan’s hilarious hissy-fit and bitter ramblings about our tactics.

We also had to listen to Scouser after Scouser on the talk shows bleating on about “playing the right way”, “parked buses” and “Chelsea boring their way to trophies”. Give it a rest eh? Jose picks teams and tactics to counter the opposition. The result proved he was right.

Dumbed down tactical theories are misleading anyway. An immaculate defensive/counter-attack display is not the same as parking the bus, no matter what the self-appointed football purists want to tell you.

The thing that struck me most was the nervousness of the Anfield crowd, and that must have affected the Liverpool team.

No one can deny that more often than not this season that crowd has been their 12th man (on the rare occasion that the referee doesn’t oblige) but it looks as though now that the glittering prize is within reach, the usual fears and uncertainties have started to surface. They were eerily quiet, where as we, safe in the knowledge that we had already ballsed it up, were able to sing with abandon.

Outside too afterwards the majority of Liverpool fans were quiet, obviously disappointed but philosophical with it. A small minority were looking for a more “physical” way of demonstrating superiority but the police were kept quite busy.

The problem I think is that many thought they’d won it already. There were too many ex-Liverpool players lining up in front of cameras to prematurely hail the new Premier League champions. There were even t-shirt sellers outside the ground selling “Liverpool Premier League Champions 2013-14” shirts and they were flying out!

I’m always the voice of doom until the other teams need snookers. Today was a timely lesson in chicken counting, I think.

Speaking of lessons, it was good to be given a lesson in sportsmanship by those paragons of footballing virtue. The constant dives, the numerous handballs and the refusal to return the ball after an injury is something I’m sure we can all aspire too. That said, we need to look at ourselves in terms of this time-wasting strategy which we seem to have used a few times this season. I do not expect a side of our calibre to resort to such measures. I imagine Jose utilises it to frustrate the opposition and I suppose it works to a certain degree, but it’s frustrating nevertheless.

Brendan can bemoan our tactics all he likes but the fact is that not only does he need to get used to it but he needs to find a way to counter it as they will not get very far with their reckless style in Europe. A more pragmatic approach is required so expect a bit of back-tracking between now and those group stages.

Apart from anything, the result against Liverpool will have been a great confidence-booster for our second leg Champions League game against Atletico, especially given our injuries. Those who have come in have proven up to the job, prepared and drilled in whatever they are needed to do.

I have to give a special mention to a couple here: the colossus that is Ashley Cole has been magnificent after so much time spent on the bench. A confirmation if ever one was needed that class is permanent. Tomas Kalas too did himself no harm with a disciplined display, showing a maturity well beyond his 20 years. This youngster really looks like he could make it.

I imagine the vilification of Mourinho will continue from the usual quarters and we may yet end up with nothing. But, given that he has come in to work with a team in transition, a team with players nearing the end of their careers as well as many only just making names for themselves, it is staggering that at this stage of the season we are still in contention... especially given our lack of strikers.

If this is what he can do now imagine what he could achieve next season? Be afraid, be very afraid.

MANCHESTER UNITED

By Richard Kurt

Just after six o’clock on Saturday at Old Trafford, you could have been forgiven for perusing your script and wondering why the actors were fluffing their lines. We’d written the film as long ago as Tuesday afternoon.

Act 1: Joyous liberated players, under a popular boss who’d pressed the ‘2013 System Restore’ button, stick several goals past wretched Norwich.

Act 2: Three more crunching victories on the bounce follow.

Act 3: A Red nation rises up and demands Giggs gets the job permanently.

Cliffhanger! Blockbuster sequel assured.

In classic Hollywood style, we did eventually get a happy ending, and there was irony to be relished in the fact that two ‘Moyes players’ did the goalscoring damage with a brace apiece. One of those players, Wayne Rooney, was reported in The Sunday People to have been especially upset by Moyes’ departure, with the paper’s well-informed veteran United expert going so far as to claim Rooney had sounded off at some of the players thought to have let down the former boss. At least Rooney remained professional and did the business on Saturday, which is more than could be said for some of his colleagues under Moyes these past few months.

There was no mistaking the sense of relief around the place, though. We’d all been let out of a particularly harsh school early, or so it felt, and we were now all ready to enjoy what is akin to a pre-summer holiday. Those who mutter ‘Europa?’ are brushed aside: nobody is going to judge Giggs on that and, frankly, hardly anyone seems to care about it. It’s playtime: we’ve cracked open the fags and beer, and we’re going to have a giggle.

A week really is an extraordinarily long time in football, isn’t it? As I write these words on a Sunday afternoon, it seems incredible that it was only seven days ago that we were in the midst of a nightmare at Goodison, with the behind-the-scenes shenanigans not yet fully underway. We’ve certainly run through the gamut this week: anger, shock, joy, embarrassment, confusion...you name that emotion and I’ll second it.

And today? For once, it’s that rarity for Old Trafford — a relatively clear sight of the horizon. Bar an astonishing upset, Louis Van Gaal is on his way, and Giggs’ best hope is at least to play himself into staffing contention.

The media may have chucked every managerial name under the sun into the pot but, as I wrote in these pages on Wednesday, we have in fact been being propelled towards a fixed destination ever since Woodward dropped the axe on Poor David. If LVG doesn’t end up at United, it will only be because Eddy will have! managed to make an enormous balls-up of his job.

Are you happy with the prospect of the sulphurous, ageing Dutch tyrant in charge? For many of you, traumatised by the season from hell, I suspect it’d be a case of ‘ABM’: at one desperate point a fortnight ago, I even heard one Red say he’d rather have Benitez than Moyes, the United equivalent of offering up a limb for amputation. You would hope that, at the very least, we’d get two relative novelties out of him: tactical sophistication of the kind not seen at Old Trafford in years, and a firm hand on the backsides of recalcitrant players.

As for the politics of the club, you may have noticed the rather embarrassing fandango being danced this week by Alex and his acolytes. It’d be quite some fancy footwork simultaneously to claim credit, yet also escape blame, for what has gone on, and the Fergusonian evasions have not impressed the judges. Strictly speaking, Fergie, you’ve ended up on the losing side of 2013/14.

But console yourself with this, Alex: in our script at least, you’re not the main villain of the piece. No, Eddy Woodward’s still got that role all sewn up.

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