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

Manager’s rotation game backfiring badly

LIVERPOOL

By Steven Kelly Football’s easy when you spend lots of money, y’know. That’s what Liverpool fans have told everyone since the lean years began. To spend over £100m and turn your title-chasing side into an outside bet for relegation, now that requires a special gift.

Of course Suarez is gone and what passes for a Champions League challenge is here. It’ll say Real Madrid 1 Liverpool 0 in the record books long after we’re all dead, the people there to witness one wave of piffle after another, a tsunami of outrage.

Assassins come with smiles; they come as your friends (last movie quote I swear). Whenever anybody from outside speaks of one’s “noble tradition” or “magnificent history”, keep your guard up because you’re about to be hit harder than ever before. They’re aiming at your weak spot.

Rodgers’ changes were justified individually but done collectively it smacked of surrender. !!We’re still in it, though I suspect not for much longer.

Events on Tuesday wouldn’t have affected anything, so not only was there a belated touch of pragmatism in Rodgers’ actions he was seemingly firing out a warning to every half-arsed layabout currently shaming the shirt.

Then he put them back in for Chelsea and ruined everything. The Rotation Game in his hands resembles a child with building blocks; knock them down and randomly begin again.

Brendan’s not used to the screeches of displeasure. Roy Keane was right during his perpetual lashing of Ferguson; managers get too much credit for success and too much criticism for failure.

When one laps up the adulation like Rodgers does, sympathy in leaner times comes in small doses.

Three defeats in a week take an awful lot of deflecting.

He sounds rattled too, Brendan, a bit like Moyes last season. He’s even started talking down to journalists about a lack of understanding, which always goes down well. I wish I could say Chelsea was a shock but clearly it wasn’t. They’re good, really good, but they didn’t even have to be.

Mourinho and Costa is a perfect fit, equal-parts brilliance and repellence.

As an outsider you’re struck by the thought they don’t need to do all the snide things, it’s just drilled, disciplined and ingrained. They’ll never be any different, five yellow cards again in a game they’d coasted.

There’s now a goal-line technology appendix to their eternal ghost-goal lament and the ball looking out just before they scored the winner was needlessly needling, but it felt like they could step it up any time they liked.

We just weren’t worthy of it.

Mourinho’s obsession with Luis Garcia was often taken as proof of how Liverpool still mattered, were always capable of getting under the big boys’ skins. Sadly it looks nothing of the sort right now. That’s just the way people are these days; petty and scabrous for the hell of it.

The Kop will sing of Chelsea’s history long after they’ve added more trophies and mock John Terry after he’s retired. It’s part of the panto. Nobody comes out of this with any credit, so you try and stay sane by focussing on the fight for the points.

Every last one is going to be vital for Liverpool this season.

CHELSEA

By Trizia Fiorellino

Most pundits had us down as winners against Liverpool before we’d even taken a step onto the pitch. It was a forgone conclusion apparently. Luckily, neither Mourinho, the team, nor indeed the supporters, felt that way.

I have said it time and again that our biggest enemy this season could be complacency. Liverpool played generally well but I (like many Liverpool fans it seems) was surprised to see Rodgers take off arguably their best two players. He can hide behind the (legitimate) penalty appeals all he likes but he had far more to do with the loss than the referee. The fact that Rodgers actually admitted a draw would have been a fair result demonstrates how delusional he is, but, more importantly, shows how unwilling he is to take any responsibility.

People talk about Mourinho’s ego, but Rodgers isn’t that far behind him (without the achievements to back up the claims).

His bizarre team choices for Madrid, his decision to substitute Coutinho and Can along with the sheer arrogance of believing that he could manage to get the best out of Balotelli gives you a snapshot of the man’s self regard.

His inexperience in the transfer market is also laid bare with his largely questionable buys over the summer. Yet he points to anywhere other than the mirror for the reason for Liverpool’s poor form.

Liverpool fans need to take their share of the blame too as they were heralding him alongside the likes of Shankly and Paisley before he had won anything. They helped create this monster. All should have kept their counsel until they could best judge what life after Suarez was going to be like.

I enjoyed watching the battle between Skrtel and Costa. As a Chelsea fan I am used to seeing physically imposing strikers but few have had the raw aggression of Costa. I saw him described as a street fighter in one of the papers and that’s spot-on. As demonstrated against Liverpool, even ripping the shirt off his back doesn’t stop him. He is both aggressor and predator; if he doesn’t score through brute force and powering his way through a defence he will stalk the penalty box with a menacing presence, with all those surrounding him waiting for that inevitable strike.

Jose seemed in much better spirits following the win at Anfield. I’d imagine this was as much down to Spain leaving Costa in Chelsea’s care for the international break as it was to the victory. This, hopefully, will allow Costa to rest fully and have any injury concerns addressed.

Keeping Costa fit and not being sucked in by this “champions-elect” talk is the key to going the distance this season.

So another international break beckons which has its pros and cons. It hopefully means Costa will get back up to full fitness but it does interrupt our momentum and gives some of our rivals time to regroup.

We’ve already been to Old Trafford, Anfield, the Ethiad and Goodison and we find ourselves top with a modest margin, but Mourinho must impress that the hard work is not yet done.

MANCHESTER UNITED

By Richard Kurt

On the one hand, there’s the bright side. Louis now has as many wins as defeats under his belt this season. (How’s that for faint praise damnation?)

Hang on, there’s more: we secured a clean sheet, something we have come to regard as a red letter day, given the ramshackle nature of our defence. Oh, and no-one broke a shoulder, snapped a ligament or fell into a black hole, a bonus after several weeks of our team keeping the NHS at full stretch.

On the other hand, however, one could count a cavalcade of faults, worries and disappointments, all of which were best summed up by one colleague’s grumble at full-time: “that was like watching a Moyes team.” Ouch.

It was hard to avoid a feeling that we’d taken a step back after so many positive elements displayed against Chelsea and City. We were slow, boring and confused, and the points were ours solely because Palace were so dour, defensive and unimaginative.

It is also hard to avoid conceding that Louis appeared to have made mistakes in selecting Fellaini — surely this was the kind of home banker where you shouldn’t require a ‘stopper’ of his limited type? — and in the way he deployed his admittedly depleted resources. We had as many players being asked to perform in their unpreferred positions as during the worst moments of Fergie’s ‘tombola Tinkerbell’ era. Moreover, a midfield without Herrera and Blind was simply bereft of any meaningful energy.

Add to that the woefully underpowered performances from Rooney and RVP — so much for our hopes that the latter’s Chelsea goal would be a kickstart — and you ended up with the perfect recipe for a sh*t sandwich.

Thankfully, there lurked some class on the bench in the shape of Juan Mata to save the day — and possibly his medium-term prospects too. For the consensus had developed that he’d all but wasted the chance, given to him in October by Rooney’s absence, to make the number 10 role his. His superb cameo on Saturday reminds us that, for many Reds, the question remains open. He is popular in a way that Rooney can never be again: he won’t lack support or patience.

Will LvG, though? There has been a significant minority view, from quite early on, that Louis always threatened to be a case of The Emperor’s New Clothes. As you can imagine, their complaints have grown louder as the season’s take-off attempt continues to fail to reach V1 speed, let alone V2. In a poll for Red Issue, taken before the Palace match, only 24% of readers were prepared to be confident enough to declare that Louis wouldn’t lose any of the next six games. To sum up: he is still getting most of the benefit of the doubt but hardly anyone is entirely won over yet.

He appeared to acknowledge afterwards that it hasn’t been good enough so far , and seemed to suggest that he had now tried out all the players, in all possible ways, to his satisfaction. There is an international break next weekend, granting him the luxury of a fortnight’s thinking time — and, of course, he has an imminent refuelling opportunity when the transfer window opens in just seven weeks time.

He did allude to that in his post-match remarks to the press with, I fancied, the glint in the eye of a very hungry man spying a hamburger. As long as it can play at centreback, Louis. If you want some names to think about, try Porto’s Dutch defender Indi, the perennial Garay and, as a dark horse, Bilbao’s French U21 star Laporte, all of whom have been closely looked at recently. Though to be honest, it’s borderline stick-a-pin time when it comes to sussing out likely new defenders. Much like the way Louis seems to pick the team sometimes...

ARSENAL

By Bernard Azulay

As the sort of superstitious creature of habit, who farcically, feels my choice of underpants can continue to have some influence over the outcome of 22 men kicking a ball about on a football pitch, it’s very rare for me to alter my matchday rituals, in any shape or form, unless it’s in an effort to instigate a change of fortune.

Having grown accustomed to the array of cheap tat that turns up every Autumn in the box that makes up our Arsenal membership pack, it was a pleasant surprise to discover that instead of the usual worthless trinket, we’d been gifted a cozy red and white Wee Willie Winkie hat, perfectly timed to coincide with the drastic drop in temperature.

However after my titfer made its debut in our hapless midweek collapse versus Anderlecht, such was my urge to vent my frustration, after throwing away a three-goal lead that my snug winter headwear was fortunate to make it home in one piece.

Yet, so perfect was my new hat for its football purpose that I couldn’t possibly consign it to the drawer that’s jam-packed with all my other seemingly jinxed Gooner gear, following what was only an honours-even outing; and in truth no less than we deserved, after having gutted the Belgians with our late smash and grab at their gaff.

Although sadly, I fear that Sunday’s foolhardy defeat to the Swans has doubtless sealed my new hat’s fate, with it almost certain to return to the box from whence it came, at least for a sufficient amount of time for the memory to fade of its role in this infuriating sortie to Wales.

I really should’ve seen the writing on the wall when no sooner had we crossed the Severn Bridge than the heavens opened to rain on our red and white parade.

The fervent environs of the Liberty are never an easy three points, but after our fairly routine success on recent visits, I was feeling somewhat optimistic, until it dawned on me that Monreal would be confronting the muscular Wilfred Bony. It’s not Nacho’s fault that, as a centre-back, our Spanish defender does a decent impersonation of a window dresser and that his patent unfamiliarity with the role infects our entire defence with a panic-stricken lack of composure

With Koscielny’s return from injury in such doubt that the club refuse to even offer an estimated date, I now realise why I had such cause for concern, when his “Achilles niggle” first came to light back in August. Now if only Arsène had been equally disturbed by the highly likely prospect of losing one of only SIX defenders for such a long period, le Prof might’ve pulled his finger out and found some cover!

At the very least I assumed that with “parking the bus” not being an option for the Swans playing in front of their own fans, their open passing game has complimented our own football in the past and I thought we were guaranteed some entertaining fare. However, such expectations couldn’t have been more misplaced, as we were forced to endure watching both sides timidly prod the ball around in their own half, during a dreadfully pedestrian first 45.

Ironically it seemed to be the torrential downpour immediately after the break that finally set this encounter aflame. Our goal also proved quite refreshing, when the Ox remained on his feet despite being clipped as he burst through on the counter. Moreover it was great to see Welbeck display the sang-froid to cut the ball back and put the goal on a plate for the ubiquitous Alexis.

Despite struggling to find some form since the start of the campaign, for a few glorious minutes it felt as if we were somehow going to end up returning to London lying third in the table, only a point behind City and that perhaps by stringing a few stuttering results together, we might finally garner some confidence.

Sadly, it wasn’t long before Gooner Chicken Licken found himself suffering the agonising sight of the sky falling in and yet again for all our players’ frailties, it’s very hard to see past an impotent Arsène as the principal scapegoat in this recurring disaster movie.

With the Swans finally getting up a head of steam in their rescue mission, as was the case against Anderlecht, I simply cannot fathom how it is possible that we have no one on the pitch, or the bench, capable of implementing the basic spoiler principles necessary to see us over the finishing line Instead of which we witnessed the familiar sight of Wenger shutting the substitutes door after Swansea’s two-goal horse had bolted.

It’s really rubbing salt in our wounds to see a relentless Chelsea grinding out the sort of results that have got the media inspiring Mourinho, as the world begins to ponder the possibility of him repeating our unbeaten Holy Grail. While Alexis apart, the insipid air around the Arsenal appears symptomatic of the sort of complacency that exists throughout our beloved club, with everyone far too secure and comfortable in the knowledge that unlike almost everyone else in the game, they’re in absolutely no risk of the “tin tack” due to one bad result and can plod inconsistently on, seemingly ad infinitum.


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