February 23rd, 2014
Game of the Day
Liverpool 4 – 3 Swansea City
Talk of a push for the title is being downplayed at all costs on Merseyside. This is to avoid a possible implosion that could accompany unrealistic expectations. Unrealistic as those expectations may be however, the subject can not be brushed under the carpet forever.
Last week they had a battling away win to Fulham and they followed it up with another three points today in a game that they never really controlled. Swansea came to Anfield without any fear under new manager Garry Monk and arguably deserved a point.
The Reds came out of the blocks fast and Raheem Sterling unsettled Nathan Dyer within three minutes, stealing the ball from him in Liverpool’s half. Sterling broke down the left and hit a sublime pass from the halfway line with the outside of his right foot to release the ever-ready Daniel Sturridge. Sturridge let Vorm commit himself outside the box, took it around the Dutchman and finished confidently in the empty net. With that goal Sturridge became only the second player in Premier League history to score in eight consecutive matches.
Sterling had a shot from the left which forced Vorm into a save at the near post just minutes later. Swansea were not lying down however and had plenty of possession in Liverpool’s third but lacked any penetration early on.
In the twentieth minute Luis Suarez played it wide to the right where Sturridge picked it up. Sturridge took on two defenders as he cut inside before rolling the ball across the box to Jordan Henderson. Henderson took a touch to steady himself and with his second he curled the ball into the top-left corner of the net, leaving Vorm standing helpless in the middle of the goal.
Again Swansea showed courage in the face of this steepening hill however and within three minutes they were back in the game. Nathan Dyer cut in from the right and squared it to ex-Liverpool midfielder Jonjo Shelvey. Shelvey placed a fantastic first-time effort in off the crossbar. Shelvey did not celebrate at his old home ground and acknowledged the appreciation he was shown from the Anfield crowd, recognising the quality of his strike.
In the twenty-sixth minute Martin Skrtel put in a challenge on Shelvey about thirty yards out from Liverpool’s goal on Swansea’s left-hand side. Skrtel was booked for this challenge. This looked a harsh decision at first but in the replay he could clearly be seen leaving his foot in after the challenge, scraping his studs down the back of Shelvey’s standing leg. From the free-kick Wilfried Bony met it with his head and his effort deflected off Skrtel’s shoulder and into the empty side of goal with Mignolet already committed elsewhere.
At 2-2 Swansea were good value for it and there could have been no complaints from Liverpool if the scores had remained level at half-time.
It was time for the SAS to enter the equation though. Liverpool played some nice, neat, short passes around the edge of Swansea’s area before eventually the ball found its way to Suarez wide on the left. Seemingly with very little effort the Uruguayan pinpointed his cross to land on the head of Sturridge who could not miss from six yards.
Wilfried Bony almost added a sixth goal of the half just before the break but Mignolet tipped his low, long-range shot just around the post.
Swansea came out with clear intentions in the second-half and a nervous Martin Skrtel bundled over Bony in the box within a minute of the restart. The penalty was given without hesitation and Skrtel may have been fortunate to avoid a second yellow card. Bony placed it in the bottom-left corner, just beyond Mignolet’s reach.
Suarez almost replied within minutes when Sturridge put him through inside the box on the right-hand side. Suarez took it wide and his effort was well saved by Vorm.
Any time that Swansea attacked the Liverpool defence looked very shaky. The Reds backline is certainly short on confidence and clean-sheets have been few-and-far between for Brendan Rodgers’ men.
Further forward Jordan Henderson was busy giving Liverpool fans what they have come to expect this season. The midfield-dynamo was the engine behind most of Liverpool’s moves, constantly pressing, passing and pushing forward all the time.
Joe Allen came on for Sterling with about twenty minutes remaining. He looked lively and was closing his old teammates down at every opportunity. Allen stole the ball and released Sturridge shortly after coming on but Ashley Williams made a brilliant blocking challenge on Sturridge’s right-footed shot.
Liverpool began to push for the win and in with a quarter of an hour remaining Luis Suarez created the opening. He took on the Swansea defence from the left side of Liverpool’s attack. Suarez took his shot from outside the box and Williams blocked it before Vorm had to make the save. Henderson reacted instinctively and his first-time shot was saved by Vorm but he couldn’t stop Henderson putting in the rebound.
Swansea never looked like equalising near the end and Gerrard came closest to another goal when his shot deflected off of Chico Flores onto the post, rebounding kindly for Swansea enabling them to clear it to safety.
Liverpool are now the highest scoring team in the Premier League with seventy goals in their twenty-seven games. Their problem however is that they have only the tenth-best defence.
Swansea are four points clear of the relegation zone in twelfth position after today. Garry Monk will be looking to get them to safety in May, then hoping to be given the opportunity to mould the team his way for next season.
For Liverpool however, their dreams are still very much in the present.
Newcastle United 1 – 0 Aston Villa
Loic Remy scored a vital winner in injury-time for Newcastle as Villa’s woes continued. This had been coming, Remy having hit the post earlier in the second half and Cisse blazing over a mostly-open goal in the first-half.
Norwich City 1 – 0 Tottenham Hotspur
Robert Snodgrass curled in a lovely strike to earn the three points for Norwich early in the second-half. Chadli and Soldado were guilty of missing key opportunities to equalise later in the game for Spurs. This result leaves Spurs six points behind Liverpool and the coveted top-four spot.
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Back from the Brink
The LMA Vice-President and former Southampton boss, Lawrie McMenemy, voiced his concerns after Nigel Adkins’ surprise dismissal on January 18th 2013.
“With due respect to Pochettino, what does he know about our game? What does he know about the Premier League?”
McMenemy’s feelings on the matter were indicative of those of the majority of Saints fans on hearing the news. As is common-place these days social media was where the opinions of most supporters could be heard.
“Is this the worst managerial sacking of all time?”
“Football has gone CRAZY again!!”
“I don’t think there is a Saints fan who isn’t ashamed of their club right now. Scandalous and downright wrong decision”.
“Back to back promotions, unbeaten in 5, & 15th in Premier League, apparently = grounds for dismissal!”
From Zero to Hero
Nigel Adkins had been a relative unknown during his goalkeeping career. He played for Tranmere Rovers from 1983 until 1986; he then joined Wigan Athletic where he stayed until 1993. He wound down his playing career with BangorCity from 1993 until 1996. It was with the Welsh club that he also took his first steps into management, signing as player-manager initially.
Adkins led BangorCity to two consecutive Welsh league titles in 1994 and 1995 before leaving the club in 1996. He moved to Scunthorpe United as the first-team physio.
The man from Birkenhead spent ten years as the physio at The Iron. In November 2006 Adkins was appointed caretaker manager following the end of Brian Laws’ second managerial spell at the club. Laws left Scunthorpe to take the managers role at Sheffield Wednesday.
Adkins immediately guided Scunthorpe to the Championship by securing promotion with three matches to spare that season. They went on to win the League One title that season.
The next season Adkins could not keep his team in the Championship but he secured promotion again the following season, and clung on to Championship survival with a 20th place finish in the 2009/10 term.
Oh, when the Saints….
It was on 12 September 2010, when Adkins joined Southampton. Again Adkins led his team to promotion at the first time of asking. They finished 2nd in League One, three points behind champions Brighton and five ahead of their nearest challengers, HuddersfieldTown. Rickie Lambert, who had been signed from Bristol Rovers in 2009, was their top scorer with twenty-one goals. Costing the club a relatively cheap £800,000, Lambert would go on to be one of Southampton’s most notable bargains in recent years.
In the 2011/12 season instead of struggling with the step up to the Championship a successive promotion followed, this time to the glistening heights of the Premier League. Southampton also finished 2nd that season, securing automatic promotion behind champions Reading. Again Lambert finished as top scorer with twenty-seven league goals for the Saints.
In August 2012 Southampton played their first top flight game since May 2005. As luck would have it they had to travel to the reigning Premier League champions, ManchesterCity. The Saints gave a great account of themselves and just lost out 3-2 in the end. Unfortunately the results did not pick up and Adkins’ men could only manage five points from their opening eleven games. They seemed to turn it around for a spell after that with only two defeats in their next twelve league games. This improvement lifted Southampton to 15th position, three points clear of the relegation zone.
The light at the end of the tunnel was nearing for Adkins and his team, or so he thought. After another spirited performance at StamfordBridge, salvaging a 2-2 draw from being 2-0 down, Adkins was dismissed. This took most fans by surprise. Just when their leader seemed to have got the team performing at a level that could secure Premier League survival, he gets sacked.
To understand this decision we need to learn some more about the man who made it.
The Sanity of Saint Cortese
When Markus Liebherr completed his purchase of Southampton in 2009 he appointed the Italian-born Swiss banker, Nicola Cortese as Executive Chairman. Cortese was to take over the day-to-day running of the club.
In August 2010 Markus Liebherr passed away. Less than a month later Cortese sacked Alan Pardew and brought in Adkins as his replacement. Liebherr’s daughter, Katharina, became the rightful owner of the club in her fathers wake. Communication between Katharina Liebherr and Nicola Cortese is thought to have broken down at some stage in late 2010, more on this later.
Nicola Cortese is one of a rare breed; a Chairman who knows his football and has the clubs best interests at heart. Along with Markus Liebherr, Cortese saved Southampton from liquidation in 2009. Under his guidance they are now an established force in the Premier League, having said that Cortese was described as “an embarrassment” by fans and former players alike after dismissing Nigel Adkins in January 2013.
“I’m shocked at the timing, it’s very strange and it’s an odd thing to come to terms with today,” said Saints legend Matt Le Tissier. ”It seems to be the way the club’s being run under the chairman. Nothing’s surprising and it’s a bit of a laughing stock.”
That was damning and, it must be said, extremely harsh and short-sighted criticism coming from Le Tissier. However, I am working with the advantage of 20:20 hindsight.
Cortese is a perfectionist, as are so many of the larger personalities in sports. This man has brought his fantastic business acumen and transferred its uses to that of running a growing football club. He immersed himself in the daily running of the club from day one. Cortese has overseen the design and building of Southampton’s new training ground which they are due to move into this coming summer. The club has a fantastic scouting set-up along with a youth system devoted to developing the best in English talent.
It is this need to achieve the ultimate standard in everything he is involved in that leads to the dynamic goals in Cortese’s vision. Nigel Adkins served his purpose well for Cortese but the Chairman then felt that the manager could not take the Saints any higher.
Faith in an out-of-favour manager
The next step for Southampton called for ex-Argentinian defender, Mauricio Pochettino. Pochettino is probably best remembered for his long hair and penalty-conceding challenge on Michael Owen at the 2002 World Cup. The centre-half made twenty International appearances and spent ten years of his seventeen year professional career at Spanish club, Espanyol.
Pochettino went on to manage Espanyol from January 2009 until November 2012. His contract was then terminated “by mutual consent”. He had managed to lead Espanyol to a comfortable position in his three full seasons there but his sacking came when Espanyol were bottom of La Liga with only nine points from thirteen matches.
Cortese took the brave step of bringing Pochettino in to replace the fans favourite Nigel Adkins. Pochettino had to step in and replace the man that had led the Saints to two successive promotions in the most recent two seasons. Comments such as the starting statement in this piece from Lawrie McMenemy were common-place and not without substance.
The Southampton Chairman however had been impressed by what he had seen from the Argentine’s leadership qualities. Also, it is worth remembering that Cortese is a more hands-on Chairman than the usual “suits” we see at the helm these days. Therefore Pochettino’s style also played a part in Cortese’s decision. He wanted his team to adapt Pochettino’s possession-based, high-pressing approach to each game, no matter who the opponents.
Cortese stated that “Mauricio … is an astute tactician and an excellent man-manager”. Pochettino recognised before arriving how important Cortese was to the Saints, “He has a clear vision aimed at starting a new era of sustained success in the Premier League and beyond”.
Pochettino’s first game in charge was a 0-0 home draw against Everton; his first win as boss was on the 9th of February, a memorable 3-1 victory against then reigning Champions, ManchesterCity.
Southampton went on to finish in 14th position in the Premier League in May 2013. Pochettino had them playing his way, the way Cortese wanted, and relegation was never really a danger to them in the second half of the season.
The Saints started the current season strongly and were as high as 3rd position back in November. A poor run from late November until January saw them win only two of their next ten league games. Even after that poor form however Southampton are sitting pretty in 9th position at the time of writing. They are seven points clear of 10th place HullCity.
Pochettino’s squad now boasts at least ten full International players. Regularly impressive performers such as Lallana, Rodriguez, Lambert, Schneiderlin, Lovren, Clyne and Shaw look like they’ve played in the Premier League for years. It will be interesting to see how high these players can take their team in the coming years if they stay at St Mary’s.
And nothing remains the same. On January 15th 2014 Nicola Cortese officially left his position as Executive Chairman of Southampton FC. The owner, Katharina Liebherr, named herself as his immediate replacement in the role. She will be acting in a non-executive role, aiming to appoint a CEO in the coming months.
“With great regret we have accepted the resignation of Mr Cortese. He has done a wonderful job and we very much wanted him to stay.”
That was the official statement from Ms Liebherr but her relationship with Cortese had broken down shortly after the death of her father, Markus, in late 2010.
After Mr Liebherr’s passing Nicola Cortese stated that “well-laid plans” that had been agreed with the late owner would “continue to be implemented uninterrupted”. However Katharina Liebherr wished to sell the club her father had purchased through Cortese in 2009. Cortese initially considered resigning in May 2013 and only stayed on after being assured by Ms Liebherr that she would not actively seek a buyer for Southampton. The issue raised its head again in the autumn though and Cortese actually submitted his resignation in November 2013 with Southampton flying high in 3rd position.
Saints fans now have to deal with the very real prospect of Pochettino following Cortese out of St Mary’s.
“I would not understand staying in this role if Nicola was not here” said Pochettino shortly after he arrived at Southampton. “The person who actually called me from the start, told me about the project and put faith in me was Nicola.”
It has been a rollercoaster ride since 2009, from the brink of administration in the depths of League One to the heights of the Premier League and possible European qualification. This week’s events could have a huge bearing on where Southampton head in the near future. Will the wheels come off? Will Pochettino stay past this summer? If he does will he be able to keep their key players now that Cortese has gone? Will Katharina Liebherr carry through with her wish to sell the south coast club?
Only time will tell but it promises to be an interesting new chapter on your journey, Saints fans, enjoy it!
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Henderson – The boys come good
Arriving at Melwood in June 2011, Jordan Henderson had a lot to live up to. Kenny Dalglish and Damien Comolli had just convinced the Red’s relatively new owners, Fenway Sports Group, to splash £16 million on the Sunderland native. The move was completed a week before Henderson’s twenty-first birthday.
Jordan had already made his debut with the Senior England team the previous November. He actually partnered Gerrard in the midfield for that 2-1 defeat at home to France. It was a night when Fabio Capello expected him to perform the duties of a defensive midfielder, not a role Jordan was familiar with.
He came up short that night, as would many twenty year olds on their Wembley debuts. Jordan was already a potential victim of the English media’s desire for every aspiring youngster to be the next Owen or Gascoigne.
Born and reared in Sunderland, Henderson went on to sign his first professional contract for his home-town club in 2008. He made his debut later that year as a substitute in a 5-0 away defeat to Chelsea. From January 2009 he gained some vital first-team experience with a loan move to CoventryCity. Plying his trade in the Championship, Henderson scored his first senior goal a month later for the Sky Blues. Jordan returned to Sunderland that April after fracturing the fifth metatarsal bone in his foot.
For both of the following two seasons Henderson was named as Sunderland’s Young Player of the Year. Steve Bruce, his manager at the time, described Jordan as “the best young British footballer there is”. He was held in very high esteem by the Sunderland board and coaching staff. Upon the completion of his move to Anfield, Niall Quinn commented that “Jordan is a cre He edit to himself, his family and Sunderland’s Academy and everyone here wishes him the very best for the future”. Quinn, the Sunderland chairman at the time, must have been delighted with the return the club were getting on one of the products of their youth system at the Stadium of Light.
With the media spotlight now shining on him constantly at Anfield, the transition was never going to be easy. Joining at the same time as Stewart Downing (£20m) and less than six months after the failing Andy Carroll (£35m), Henderson found himself the subject of constant scrutiny. Dalglish and Comolli’s transfers were being put under the microscope as the team struggled to gel significantly in the 2011/12 season. Henderson was deployed to the right of midfield for most of the season. He made 48 appearances and scored 2 goals that season.
Having watched Henderson over the last two years it is evident that his favourite and most effective role is as a more dynamic, central midfielder. He times his breaks forward from the midfield to great effect, as shown recently with his cracking strike against NottsCounty in the Capital One Cup. Jordan’s best quality does seem to be his engine. His impressive stamina and endurance can distract us from the fact that he is very good on the ball and a great first-time passer. This past weekend Henderson was arguably the man of the match as Liverpool toppled United 1-0 at Anfield. Officially this title was given to the immense Martin Skrtel on his return to first-team action. However, Henderson’s name has been mentioned quite a few times after his performance against the reigning league champions.
When Henderson signed for Liverpool many Red’s fans were worried about how this “pretty boy” with his Joe-90 like shiny exterior would fit into their midfield. Was he a battler? Could he show a real passion and fighting spirit?
The best compliment I can pay Jordan Henderson is this; the characteristics he has so far displayed on the pitch are in complete contrast with what I was expecting when I first seen the man.
Liverpool fans everywhere have taken great satisfaction from watching this young man develop on the pitch over the last two years. If Jordan continues to develop over the next few years then we will have in our possession a fantastic midfielder – Liverpool, and England, await.
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