TERRACE TALK: Reaction from the weekend’s top Premier League action

Liverpool: Lessons to be learned from Real bashing

TERRACE TALK: Reaction from the weekend’s top Premier League action

We’re not in Oz any more, Toto. God knows where this is now. I never fully understood that film. Dorothy has adventures and excitement in a colourful, vibrant world full of goofy characters yet she can’t wait to get back to her poverty-stricken tornado-battered hellhole.

The weirdest life-lesson ever filmed, but Liverpool’s new season is already beginning to resemble that quizzical return to ‘normality’.

What happened against Madrid wasn’t a shock. If anything it was a reminder that there’s a huge difference between gaining entry to the Champions League and actually competing in it. The Arsenal boast of a permanent presence was always a curious one.

The rest of the world should stock up on popcorn for the return, unless cruelty and bloodshed isn’t your bag. For us there can only be two more hours of gallows humour about sieves, calculators and goalkeepers with ~backache. After all you can never really get mad at Uncle Carlo, can you? Some supporter unease dates back to April when the wheels came off the title challenge. Rodgers’ reaction to the way he got schooled by the Spesh was understandable short-term shock, yet this stuff needed to be learned and it’s a poor coach who thinks it doesn’t.

Events since then can only make you wonder if Rodgers believed there was a problem at all. All that florid hyperbole (does he do anything else?) about rejecting any Plan B and just making Plan A better? He meant it.

The irony of a clean sheet against Hull wasn’t lost on anybody. Given the paucity of attacks at the other end, bar a frantic last 30 minutes, you half expected Brendan to ask, arms outstretched, “happy now?”

Selecting two runners like Can and Allen for what will always be relegation strugglers seemed, after Real’s master-class, to be a deafening slam of the stable door after everything but the lame donkey had bolted.

If Gerrard can’t manage under his own steam then somebody needs to tell him he shouldn’t be there for every single minute of every single match. It still didn’t stop Hull from strolling through at will on the few occasions they weren’t contesting every decision or hacking through calves.

The backs of Lallana’s and Sterling’s legs are probably the colour of Ferguson’s nose by now.

The referee was lenient and inept. After all the tedious bullshit about Balotelli’s shirt he looked like a red card waiting to happen. If the officials weren’t so in thrall to Gerrard this one would probably have gleefully handed the media yet more Mario madness.

The lad does himself no favours. I’m loath to admit Shearer is right about anything but when the goals aren’t coming you have to work and make it look like you’re doing your best.

It’s important to remember what we’ve lost. Suarez and Sturridge were very good camouflage. After months of saying “so what” to all those two’s and three’s we were conceding should it have taken this long for any manager to realise you can’t operate like that forever? When you’ve got a few bob you flaunt it, eat at the best places and stand a few rounds. Then when you’re skint there is a period where you think you can still spend freely. It’s only when the bailiff knocks that you realise you must live in a completely different way now. Rodgers is still in that overlap zone.

We were loaded with goals, now we’re not. Already the transfer spree is being torn apart. Twenty millions’ worth of Markovic isn’t even being brought on when you need a goal now. What would be the point? I enjoyed the late Kop surge and the resultant 0-0 isn’t anything we haven’t seen a hundred times before. Something seems different about this though; a dark cloud in a shape of things to come that won’t be evaporating soon. There’s always the Capital One Cup, Brendan. Look what it did for Kenny.

Arsenal: Another slice of luck hides our serious weaknesses

There was a moment during the first half at the Stadium of Light on Saturday, when Welbeck found himself with the ball at his feet out on the left flank and he looked up, before playing a cross into the box, only to see the small figures of Alexis, the Ox and Santi, competing with the Black Cats comparative defensive behemoths.

It was symptomatic of the infuriating lopsidedness of our squad.

Heaven only knows how the Gunners have ended up with two wins over this past week, Yet hopefully, if we continue to benefit from having such an unbelievably fortuitous wind at our backs, we’ll gradually boost our confidence, which might enable us to negate the obvious limitations of our physical size.

I believe our beleaguered Belgian opponents on Wednesday night achieved the unenviable feat of being the first team we’ve encountered in a long, long time that appears to be smaller than us, in both size and stature. And with the resulting deflationary effect of our last gasp ‘smash and grab’ in Anderlecht, I imagine the home team must’ve all shrunk several more inches, as they trudged back into their dressing room.

Despite my “never in doubt” post-match delight, our woeful display was sufficiently embarrassing that there’s some small part of me can’t help but wonder whether perhaps we might’ve profited more from the sort of media scalding we deserved, if we hadn’t managed a last-minute exit from this humiliating Belgian frying-pan.

Perhaps our inhibited, lacklustre performance was down to nervousness, on account of our makeshift defence. But with Alexis not nearly so blase about appearing on football’s biggest stage, once again the Chilean alone demonstrated the intensity necessary to eventually make something happen. This was a lamentably complacent display of a squad too accustomed to going through the motions, to progress from the group stages.

Our positively limp efforts on Wednesday night were made even more disappointing, on account of the stark contrast with the Gunners’ powerhouse side of yesteryear, with me having imbibed a whole keg of “Invincible” nostalgia only a couple of night’s prior, while socialising with a bunch of Gooner celebs at a launch party for Amy Lawrence’s new tome.

Amidst all the reminiscing about a bygone era, when our “miracle worker” manager was revolutionising the British game and permanently spoiling Arsenal addicts, with a heady fix of the sort of spectacle that’s left us yearning for the same high ever since, comedian Ian Stone conjured up a poignant analogy of Arsene in his dotage and the decline of Maggie Thatcher. Surrounded by nodding-dog “yes men”, like Maggie, has Wenger become so detached from reality that he can no longer see the stout wood for our undersized saplings? Watching Alex Song boss the midfield for the high-flying Hammers against City, it’s hard not to wonder why, having failed with any of his intended targets, Wenger couldn’t have brought the versatile Cameroonian back on loan. But then as Arsene demonstrated with Fabregas, the man is not for turning.

Meanwhile I adore the precedent set by Vito Mannone and his embarrassed colleagues, by offering to refund Black Cat fans from their own pockets for the humiliation they endured at Southampton. I’m optimistic that the Arsenal’s form will improve, if Wenger can get some of our prize possessions back out onto the pitch without breaking them again. If not, should the Gunners choose to adopt the same practice of shamefaced refunds, I might be able to retire by the end of the season.

Chelsea: Failure to kill off teams a major worry

It’s difficult to write this within minutes of the final whistle at Old Trafford — I’m not just gutted, I am bloody furious.

It seems we have not learned any lessons from the Man City game and when we went ahead we almost immediately started this infuriating resting with the ball instead of pressing home our advantage.

United were vulnerable immediately after we scored and we should have gone in for the kill, but Mourinho obviously decided the one goal was sufficient and instead we had to witness this ridiculous training ground passing exercise.

Can there be anything more effective to rile the opposition into upping their game?

The whole game was frustrating — Dowd was ridiculously card happy for what was not a dirty game, we were denied a stonewall penalty, the Ivanovic red card was utterly avoidable, we started too slowly, Jose bought Mikel on too early and this draw could have implications in the next few weeks.

Goals in the fourth minute of injury-time play on the mind and, given that we have a Champions League match, a London derby and a game against Liverpool coming up, we really needed a decent display. Instead we have shown chinks in our armour.

The run-up to Christmas is not traditionally a time where we do particularly well so I’m hoping that whatever is ailing Costa is sorted out quickly as we will need him. However, I will be catatonic with rage if our medical team get him fit just for the Spanish to ignore any weaknesses and subject him to the rigours of playing for his adopted country during the up and coming international break in November.

Drogba may have rolled back the years with that goal up at Old Trafford but he is sadly not the player to build any title hopes on anymore.

If truth be told, I think we are playing with an arrogance at the moment — an arrogance we haven’t yet earned. Yes, we have started well and are top of the league, but it’s early days and I have only seen glimpses of the kind of domination we saw with the team of gladiators that won back-to-back titles for Mourinho during his first Chelsea stewardship.

I apologise for these morose scribblings but this is what you get when forced to put your thoughts to paper so soon after having your hopes dashed with literally seconds on the clock.

But if ever I do need to raise my spirits I just have to remind myself that Eden Hazard plays for Chelsea.

Even in a game like yesterday’s, he shone like a beacon — he is frighteningly good and just gets better game by game.

The Premier League is so physical and players like him get little protection, yet he still manages his trickery no matter how many opposition players he has on him.

His socks and ankles are often bloodied by the time the final whistle goes, but that doesn’t stop him, something he has worked on even since last season.

His frustration at constantly being targeted last season sometimes had him retreat from the game — not so this campaign. Now such attention seems to push him on and make him far more determined.

This has to be partially attributed to Jose Mourinho — the two have been very vocal in their admiration for each other.

Hazard recognises and likes Mourinho’s competitiveness and motivational skills and Jose in turn likes the fact that Hazard accepts criticism and advice in the spirit in which it is meant. &

So I will try and concentrate on the positive elements of this season so far — on the fact that we are still unbeaten and on the pleasing small gap we have opened up at the top of the table and hope Jose is not arrogant enough to have not learnt a few valuable lessons himself this weekend.

Manchester United: Dare one ask if this marks a turning point?

At the end of half-time yesterday, as we all marvelled to each other about how unexpectedly spiritedly our makeshift team was playing, a colleague softly moaned: “I can’t help thinking about all the previous occasions when we’ve played so well against Chelsea and still ended up getting done.”

Gah. My heart sank, as I too realised we had indeed seen this film many times before. It had even often starred that old matinee idol Didier Drogba, whose back we thought we had seen the back of until last summer’s surprise return. Eight minutes later, as the thitherto useless lumberer scored, I was briefly tempted to take the hint, get up, and go down the pub instead.

Of course, I didn’t: in fact, I’ve never abandoned a competitive match in my life, and after the late heroics at the Hawthorns earlier in the week, few Reds needed reminding that this team has now finally rediscovered how to score in the final half hour. (Incredibly, Van Gaal’s team hadn’t performed that feat all season, leading some to question the club’s entire fitness regime. Including Van Gaal, it seems: he’s ‘re-allocated’ the fitness coach).

It’s easy to see it so clearly in retrospect but, somewhere around the 80th minute, Old Trafford seemed to have one its Jungian moments. A collective belief that you are going to score is sometimes hard to explain; after all, in this case, Chelsea had bettered us for most of the half. But when the glorious explosion came, courtesy of Van Persie in what we used to call Fergietime, it felt like Fate turning up for an appointment, albeit cutting it fashionably fine.

I’m writing within an hour of the whistle and am trying not to lose perspective in the afterglow but...dare one use the phrase “turning point” here? Or is that a tad premature?

Perhaps we should wait to see what a bruised and angry City might do to us on Sunday before booking a first class ticket on the Giddy Bus.

Nevertheless, what an array of positive aspects upon which to feast over breakfast as we digest the newspapers.

How thrilled are you by the roaring return of the boy wonder Adnan, whom so many had mournfully accepted might be getting frozen out? Will RVP’s moment of deliverance snap him out of his grumpy rut and inspire him to emulate 2012/13? And what of the assurance of Shaw, suddenly looking as though he may one day justify his pricetag? Above all, there is LVG’s ‘performance’. In the way he deployed his depleted resources, and then subsequently shaped them, he surely produced his best day’s work this season. It comes at more or less the three months mark, which he himself had nominated at the outset as being a good judging post for his progress: eighth place in the table doesn’t really tell the tale adequately, though, does it? The weaknesses have been spectacularly obvious but he’ll still do for me so far, dear reader.

In fact, at the risk of tempting fate, Reds seem to be rather chipper at the moment. Our results and performances may be all over the place, but we are seeing things we love at regular enough intervals to compensate: a Di Maria shimmy cancels out a Jones fumble and all is well, somehow.

The ball and the players are moving fast and with purpose — so we are entertained, if not always triumphant. City have had a grisly week, and Liverpool’s has been even worse, both experiences offering tantalising suggestions that they are harbingers of big storms ahead — and thus rendering the likelihood of Chelsea winning the league from their current dominant position almost unconcerning.

Naturally, you and I will be crying into our cornflakes together here next week, should City rediscover their form of last season and hand us our posterior on a plate.

But still: cling to this result. It really did seem to signify something, didn’t it?

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