Posts tagged liverpool
Posts tagged liverpool
As part of the annual Football League Awards hosted in March, this year containing 17 categories ranging from PFA Player in the Community Award, contested by Portsmouth’s Joel Ward, Noel Hunt of Reading and Millwall’s Tamika Mkandawire, to Best Matchday Programme, the three-man shortlist for the npower Championship Player of the Year Award has been put together.
Last year’s winner, Adel Taarabt, who was crowned on the back of Kevin Nolan’s 2010 successes and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake’s triumphant 2009, thanked voters – last year compromised of firstly fans voting online and then narrowed down to the top three and eventual winner by a select panel of judges: “I am really happy to be named the top player in the npower Championship. I had a difficult time at Spurs and going to QPR was a risk for me, but things have gone very well and hopefully, I will be back in the Premier League next season.”
With the winner being announced in March, Q.P.R’s fate was not yet confirmed: however, as Taarabt was wishing, Q.P.R won promotion, finishing as Champions, and the talented Moroccan is part of Mark Hughes’ plans to avoid relegation, having been inconsistently used by Neil Warnock prior to his dismissal.
This year, all three nominees will have similar expectations to those of Adel Taarabt. Shortlisted for the prestigious award, is: Cardiff City’s Peter Whittingham, Southampton’s Rickie Lambert and his Saints teammate Adam Lallana.
Cardiff City play in their second domestic cup final in four years on Sunday, having lost to Portsmouth in the F.A Cup Final in 2008: coincidentally the year in which Rickie Lambert finished top scorer in the competition. They take on Liverpool in the Carling Cup Final and the nomination of their hugely talented midfielder for the Award is a credit to their campaign. In Malky Mackay’s first season in charge of The Bluebirds, Cardiff have reached the Carling Cup Final and are still chasing promotion from where they currently sit at 5th, six points off of automatic promotion with 14 games left.
The achievements of Southampton under an ever-positive Nigel Adkins are equally admirable: coming up in second from the npower League One, Southampton quietly went about their summer transfer dealings, overshadowed by pseudo-rivals Brighton capturing League One’s top scorer Craig Mackail-Smith and Valencia’s Vicente, yet quickly established themselves at the top of the pack. To date, Southampton are yet to be positioned anywhere but the top two and led the pack for the majority of the campaign. Nominees, Rickie Lambert and Adam Lallana, will be hoping their strong performances can continue and ensure Premier League status next season.
However, who will win the npower Championship Player of the Year Award 2012?
In League One, Rickie Lambert had all the plaudits: they were as plentiful and as vast as his goal-scoring portfolio. However, when Southampton made the step back up into the second tier of English football, many suddenly left the Scouser’s side. The Southampton faithful didn’t, though, and after many a lazy comparison to Grant Holt, Saints fans were left wondering if they were the only ones knowing just how good Rickie Lambert was, as he seemingly continued to go unnoticed in the Championship.
Yet, Rickie Lambert’s recognition, all the more valued as it is coming from opposition managers rather than the previous system of fan votes, which was easy to rig, is full confirmation – if currently being the league’s top scorer with sixteen and second in the assists chart with nine wasn’t – that Southampton’s no.7 has made the step up.
What is much-covered in the media is Rickie Lambert’s transition from a chunky League One target man to a much trimmer “Saints fit” centre forward: however, this understates just how talented Rickie Lambert is technically as well as physically. His hold-up play is noted, his ability to drop off his man and play the quick one-two is not; his aerial ability is credited, but his wing play and succulent deliveries are not; and whilst his free-kick’s and penalties are often lauded, his creativity and vision is not. At 6’2, Rickie Lambert is the not so subtle underdog.
theseventytwo rating: 19th best player in the league
Unlike last year, the voting system is open to only the votes of the 24 managers in the Championship. The three-man shortlist is a reflection of the most voted for players in each manager’s five-man submittal. Peter Whittingham’s inclusion in the final cut for the trophy pays homage to a season in which he has helped his team towards a League Cup Final, contributing with two goals, one of which became the decisive third penalty in a 3-1 semi-final penalty shootout win against Crystal Palace.
However, it is in the league where Whittingham, who made his debut for Cardiff City in 2007, since becoming a permanent fixture for The Bluebirds under Dave Jones and then Malky Mackay, has made the biggest impact: the midfielder has featured in all of Cardiff’s 32 league games so far this season and his return of nine goals means that the former England -21 international leads the scoring charts for Cardiff - along with Kenny Miller - a feat he carried out until the end of the season during the 09/10 campaign, securing the Championship Golden Boot with 22 goals. Add to that that Whittingham has the most assists in the league, and the case for Cardiff creator is strong.
The npower Championship Player of the Year Award isn’t the only gong the Cardiff City hit man is up for either: due to his audacious attempt from 25-yards, caught on the volley, the free-scoring midfield maestro finds himself up against Darren Ambrose, Peter Leven, Kári Árnason and Paul Coutts for the Mitre Goal of the Year, something Barnsley ‘keeper Luke Steele wouldn’t begrudge him.
theseventytwo rating: 4th best player in the league
“For me he is the best player in the league,” said Nigel Adkins, “Lallana oozes class; it’s as simple as that.” For anyone that has seen this prodigious talent twist and turn opposition defenders inside out, his ability in undoubted: his feinting hips and dipping shoulders left John Paintsil on his bum when Saints suffered their first defeat of the season at the King Power Stadium. Now, as the final fourteen games approach, Adam Lallana has hit his brilliant best once more.
His performance against Derby, his second faultless home display on the trot, was scintillating. In the early stages of the season, David Connolly had provided the class on par with Lallana to enable an unstoppable partnership to form, but his dip in performances has seen the aging Irishman feature less, as competition for attacking places increases and on Saturday, it was January Japanese signing Tadanari Lee that made Adam Lallana spark even brighter once more. The relationship was telepathic and the one touch passing between the two was the catalyst for Southampton’s third goal, which was beautifully finished on the volley from Adam Lallana himself.
With five assists, Southampton’s 5th highest assister, and eight goals, Adam Lallana has proved himself as one of many sources of goals in a freely-attacking Saints side. However, the 23-year old one-club man is all about the team, “It’s obviously nice to get recognised but we just want to achieve promotion now because that’s our main goal for the season. If we get promoted then it’ll be brilliant.” Saints fans will be hoping the momentum gathered between now and the final run-in will be gathered at pace and such an award could only spur on their best player.
theseventytwo rating: the best in the league
If it wasn’t for Andre Villas-Boas’ failure to make an immediate impact at Chelsea, something that he undoubtedly intended to do given his insistence that “there is no calling this a year of transition,” earlier in the season, despite evidently being in a year of transition - something that has become painstakingly obvious to the rest of the world who hadn’t already realised it was underway, thanks to Villas-Boas all but admitting the transition by stating, “we have a three-year project to change, not only the team but, the culture and structure of the club” - Arsenal’s season would be dead right now. Luckily for Arsene Wenger, they still have the much-coveted “trophy” of fourth place to cling on to.
Meanwhile, Arsenal’s season has taken a rather different path to Chelsea’s, yet both teams are still going into the last thirteen games on level points (43) and the same goal difference (13). The only thing that currently keeps Arsenal in the top four over Chelsea, a position Arsene Wenger has never finished below during his Arsenal career, is the 22-goal Robin van Persie, rather than a 2-goal Fernando Torres.
Chelsea’s defence has been marginally tighter than Arsenal’s (I emphasize marginally) and whilst both teams have suffered defensively this season, with Chelsea’s Mourinho-instilled focus on strong foundations at the back finally all but fading out as Villas-Boas adopts a risk-taking and attacking defence, and Arsenal’s back four providing all but stability or consistency, with a total of eleven plays being used across the back, if The Blues were going to pip The Gunners to fourth place, it would be won at the back.
However, news that John Terry - who was set to be risked by the Portuguese boss against Napoli, a clear indication of just how important Terry is to Chelsea, despite not being quite the player he was a few years ago - is out for two months, could scupper Villas-Boas’ chances of Chelsea finishing in a Champions League spot and mount further pressure on the 34-year old.
John Terry suffered a blow to his knee in a collision with the goalpost in Chelsea’s F.A. Cup victory over Championship Portsmouth on January 7th: an injury he played through for two more games. Since then, The Blues have failed to keep a clean sheet and have slipped from 4th place and just four points off of 3rd and six clear of seventh, to 5th place, where 3rd seems unreachable at 10 points away and 7th placed Liverpool have closed the gap by two.
The reading doesn’t get much better for Chelsea fans as not only are Chelsea without a clean sheet in a Terry-less side so far this season, but in addition, last season Chelsea kept just one of their 15 clean sheets without Terry, in a season in which the centre-back missed 5 games. Last campaign, Chelsea kept a clean sheet with Terry 42% of the time and without him, just 20% of the time. This season, Chelsea have kept a clean sheet 27% of the time in which John Terry has played and without him, it currently stands at 0%.
Chelsea’s defensive woes are further encapsulated by the fact that they’ve only won two of their last ten games, one of them against relegation zone dwellers Wolves. And whilst they may’ve only lost two, both were bottom half at the time and their six draws have been score draws five times, with their only goalless draw coming against Norwich, a game fans would’ve hoped Chelsea would’ve won. Their 3-0 lead against Manchester United could’ve galvanised Chelsea’s season, but even that was carelessly thrown away, to add to their other two score draws that saw Chelsea lead.
Chelsea fans may take some hope from January signing Gary Cahill: however, the centre-back is stepping into the shoes of a Chelsea hero in an extremely frail Chelsea team that, simply put, is lacking leadership, belief and confidence. He’s stepped out of the fire, in the form of Bolton, who have only kept one clean sheet since the opening fixture, and into the fire at Chelsea.
So, can Chelsea turn to last season’s Player of the Year Petr Cech for help? Seemingly not. This season, you could make a claim for Petr Cech being the worst shot stopper in the league, although much blame should be put down to a defence lacking in organisation, something further hindered with the absence of Terry: this season, Cech’s saves-to-shots ratio in the Premier League is 65% and therefore the worst in the league.
Turn to Arsenal and in a season in which the Premier League’s top four has been more hotly-contested than Miss Universe and saw The Gunners seventeenth after an embarrassing 8-2 defeat at the hands of a ruthless Manchester United, their current position of fourth place is rather admirable. Yet, the past ten days has seen The Gunners lose everything they were fighting for but fourth place, crashing out of the F.A. Cup in a 2-0 defeat to Sunderland and their Champions League adventure all but over after a 4-0 first leg loss at the San Siro.
Yet, news that Laurent Koscielny should be back for Arsenal’s next Premier League game – the North London derby with Tottenham – has given a cloudy Arsenal week a much-welcomed silver lining. With Bacary Sagna firing on all cylinders again and Thomas Vermaelen at the heart of defence with the Frenchman, Arsenal fans have the right to celebrate.
The ever-changing back line, eluded to in the opening of this article, has finally mustered up some strength and stability: a blend of leadership, provided by Vermaelen, experience, courtesy of Sagna and ability, supplied in heaps from the much-improved Kosclieny, may well prove to secure fourth place in a season where defence has been far from Arsenal’s strong point.
It would be careless to rule out Newcastle or Liverpool sneaking in and snatching the last Champions League spot, especially with the momentum Liverpool are gathering and the focus Alan Pardew has on the league campaign: but, ultimately, if Arsenal or Chelsea do indeed finish fourth, the fight will be settled in defence.
There was a point where this whole kerfuffle was becoming slightly tedious: Liverpool were literally turning their terrace chant into an all-abiding ethos, ensuring Luis Suarez would “never walk alone,” and the majority of everyone else was sternly on the side of Patrice Evra. An eight-match ban was given and the tedium truly set in, as a meek game of ping pong got underway with Liverpool stating they fully support Luis Suarez, Manchester United opposing such a stance, Luis Suarez offering some sort of pseudo-apology and Manchester United taking offence to such a half-hearted attempt. Luis Suarez’s return was hopefully going to break the tedium, draw a line under the set of events, as requested by Sir Alex Ferguson in his pre-game programmes notes at the weekend, and the rivalry between the two clubs could get back to purely football rather than two men seemingly both swathed in ignorance.
However, that was not to be: the lack of a handshake – something dodged, quite admirably in hindsight, by the F.A. in Q.P.R’s F.A. Cup tie against Chelsea – was enough to force football to take the back seat for the day and the next episode in the never-ending series of the Patrice Evra and Luis Suarez affair to take centre stage once more. Despite Kenny Dalglish’s feeble avoidance of the matter and Sir Alex Ferguson’s neutral stance in his post-match interview, although he did describe the Uruguayan as a “disgrace,” neither man has come out of the game with much dignity: but who will come out of the saga the worse for wear?
Before I start, I am not taking the side of Luis Suarez nor am I of Patrice Evra, I feel that both have acted sanctimoniously and ignorantly, whilst causing much dispute over the game as a whole.
The Uruguayan has made racist remarks - that is irrefutable: however, Luis Suarez is not a racist and that is where a case can be made for him; not one that excuses his insensitive behaviour throughout the saga, though. The F.A. commission found Luis Suarez to have made comments deemed racist and thus the eight-game ban: yet, the commission doesn’t believe he is a racist and it is here that inconsistency arises that may allow Suarez to feel wholeheartedly aggrieved by the matter, especially considering Patrice Evra’s despicable behaviour in the weekend’s game and Suarez’s belief that Patrice Evra hasn’t been wholly truthful throughout.
As well as the Uruguayan firmly believing that the Frenchman has engineered what is true (although Evra did admit referring to the former as “South American,” which could be deemed “offensive if taken as an implied slight against a regional identity” or with a sneer, but went unpunished), the way in which there has been no consistency in the handling of race-related issues that have sadly arisen during this season, could further aggravate Suarez.
Firstly, as briefly highlighted above, Patrice Evra wasn’t punished for his part in the exchanges – no matter how small; secondly, John Terry’s alleged slur, whilst causing just as much controversy and hindrance to the season, has again been treated differently, this time being handed over to the CPS, which will deal with the matter fully after Euro 2012; and lastly, Peter Copeland, who pleaded guilty to breaching the Malicious Communications Act by tweeting racist comments on social networking site Twitter, such as referring to Newcastle United as the “Coon Army,” in an unwitty observation of “the number of darkies” in Pardew’s side was punished, on the Chairman of the Bench’s advice, with just “medium level community order,” after the excuse of Copeland’s defence that, “he never intended his comments to reach a worldwide audience.”
The handshake was a chance to dispel the saga, weirdly appease Sepp Blatter and hopefully draw a line under the matter: however, it didn’t happen as Luis Suarez deftly avoided Patrice Evra’s hand and his further brattish behaviour on the sound of the half-time whistle did much to distract how he handled himself with dignity as he walked off the pitch at the end of each half, despite the actions of those around him, in particular Patrice Evra, whose full-time celebrations in front of the Uruguayan were tasteless and pious. How Luis Suarez fares from this prolonged saga will much depend on his media portrayal: but for him, he remains “disappointed because everything is not that it seems.”
Patrice Evra’s actions, though, were equally idiotic: had he simply let Luis Suarez pass, he could’ve held his head high, knowing he had offered his hand and that he had done no wrong. However, in grabbing his arm and acting hostile in doing so, and continuing to do so throughout the game – best exemplified in his and Rio Ferdinand’s combined efforts to clatter the Uruguayan - Evra has only aggravated the scenario further.
Some believe that Patrice Evra has conducted himself well: he was racially abused, he hasn’t received a direct and respectful apology and he still offered his hand to the man who insulted him: yet, regrettably so, there are more dimensions to both characters than simply one. Patrice Evra has acted petulantly once again in his career and it will divert attention away from the most important matter, as will Suarez’s actions. He has, on Sunday, issued an apology for not shaking his hand on Liverpool’s official site: “I should have shaken Patrice Evra’s hand before the game and I want to apologise for my actions,” but has it come too late?
If the saga regarding Patrice Evra and Luis Suarez is concerned only with racism, as portrayed from the viewpoint of the Frenchman, Suarez is in the wrong: but, if it’s taken from the stance of the Uruguayan, and is concerned with manipulating truth into a case the F.A. will mandatorily and immediately react to, to make example of, to gain an advantage over an opponent you have a grudge against, it is Patrice Evra who could be deemed disgraceful. Saturday’s events could be orchestrated to suit either party’s argument: but who will come out of the saga the worse for wear?