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The Athletic - LFC related articles

Discussion in 'The Football Forum' started by Hass, Jun 3, 2020.

  1. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    Milan are back – but this is just the start of a long Champions League journey for Pioli’s young team
    By Oliver Kay Sept 16, 2021[​IMG] 32 [​IMG]
    By the time a sense of calm returned to Anfield at the end of a raucous evening, AC Milan’s young players were back in the away dressing room, reflecting on what might have been, and Paolo Maldini was standing on the touchline, taking it all in and no doubt thinking how much he would have loved playing on a Champions League night like this.
    Maldini made 135 appearances in the European Cup over a 20-year period, including eight finals, but the Milan teams he represented with distinction never ventured into this madhouse. Anfield is one of those places where, as a defender, you have to maintain your focus and keep your head while all about you are losing theirs. To a grand old age, Maldini excelled at that.
    In those days, stretching from the late 1980s to the late 2000s, Milan were the great aristocrats of the European football scene — “a point of reference”, as Maldini put it before this game. It was unthinkable that they might endure a seven-year exile from this competition or that, when they finally returned to the Champions League stage, it would be as outsiders.
    Even Maldini, who is now the club’s technical director, might not have been too surprised that Milan’s first Champions League game since March 2014 ended in defeat last night. But the fascinating thing was the nature of that defeat.
    At times early on, Milan’s youngsters looked overwhelmed, totally out of their depth against a truly rampant Liverpool side. But against the run of the play they scored twice to lead 2-1 at half-time, only for Liverpool to claim a 3-2 win thanks to Jordan Henderson’s crisp first-time shot in the 69th minute.
    It was a pulsating game, one that reflected both the progress Milan have made under Stefano Pioli’s management and the size of the task that still lies ahead. To qualify from this group will mean finishing ahead of two of Liverpool, Porto and Atletico Madrid. But this is a young team which, in both the short term and the long term, should prove stronger for the experience.
    The last time these clubs met, in the 2007 Champions League final in Athens, Milan had a 38-year-old Maldini in central defence and a starting XI with an average age of 31. Andrea Pirlo, at 28 and with 68 Champions League appearances behind him, was the second-youngest player in that side.
    With Zlatan Ibrahimovic injured and Alessandro Florenzi and Olivier Giroud coming off the bench as second-half substitutes, last night’s starting XI had an average age of just under 25. Only Red Bull Salzburg fielded a younger team in the competition’s opening round of group matches.
    In terms of Champions League experience, the figures were even more stark, with a total of only 24 previous appearances in the competition (Simon Kjaer seven, Mike Maignan six, Fikayo Tomori and Brahim Diaz four, Theo Hernandez three). The equivalent figure for Liverpool was 377. Joe Gomez had made as many Champions League appearances by himself as Milan’s opening line-up combined.
    For 20 minutes or so, it looked like men against boys. Pioli might not enjoy looking back at that period, in which Ismael Bennacer and Franck Kessie appeared out of their depth in central midfield, chasing shadows, and Alexis Saelemaekers and Rafael Leao seemed terrified by the speed with which Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold were attacking from the full-back positions.
    Better, more experienced teams than this Milan one have been overwhelmed by Jurgen Klopp’s side in the early stages of a Champions League night at Anfield, but even so it was worrying for them.
    Theo Hernandez looked horribly exposed against the twin threat of Alexander-Arnold and Mo Salah. On nine minutes, a swift exchange between those two took Alexander-Arnold beyond Leao and Hernandez. His cross-shot was deflected into the net by the unfortunate Tomori and, as Maignan, Kessie and Bennacer remonstrated with each other, it felt like Milan were in for a long, long night.
    Those fears grew a few minutes later when referee Szymon Marciniak awarded a penalty as Roberton’s shot struck Bennacer’s arm. But Maignan dived to his right to save Salah’s kick and then recovered superbly to also repel Diogo Jota’s follow-up.
    That penalty save seemed to take the wind out of Liverpool’s sails and, gradually, the Serie A co-leaders found some semblance of a foothold.
    It was still a shock when Milan scored twice in 108 seconds to turn the game on its head just before half-time. They had only had one serious attack before that and there was an intriguing moment during Sky Italia’s post-match coverage when former Milan coach Fabio Capello took Pioli and his players to task, saying, “When you had the ball, you kept passing it sideways and you kept passing it slowly. That wasn’t your plan, was it?”
    No, it wasn’t. Pioli had said beforehand that “when we have the ball we must have the personality and the technical quality to find the right spaces”.
    Those two goals summed up exactly the type of precise, confident football he had in mind.
    The first involved Kjaer, Diaz, Saelemaekers and Leao, who teed up Ante Rebic played for a calm finish. The second might have looked scruffy in its execution, with Diaz sliding the ball home from all of a yard out, but what came before, as Leao got away from Fabinho and Rebic picked out an advancing Hernandez in the penalty area, was a delight.
    Pioli bemoaned the lapses that allowed Liverpool to claim victory with second-half goals from Salah and Henderson.
    The winner was a simple case of a weak header from Bennacer and a failure to close down the man on the edge of the penalty area. The equaliser from Salah was more of a collective failure. The ease with which the Egyptian escaped the attentions of Hernandez, Tomori and Kjaer to race onto Divock Origi’s clever pass was disappointing. So too was Maignan’s decision to stay in his six-yard box, allowing Salah to convert an awkward bouncing ball.
    In the end, Liverpool had too much quality and too much know-how. They also had the certainty that comes from performing at such a high level together for the past four seasons.
    Milan don’t have that. They are a young team in an early stage of their development under Pioli and, while this was a chastening experience at times in the first half, they will draw encouragement from the evening. Maignan, Tomori, Diaz and Leao in particular will look back with satisfaction on their efforts.
    “We have the youngest team in the group,” Pioli said afterwards. “We have very few players who have played in the Champions League before. Coming up against a team like Liverpool is very tough, a real challenge. They are a very good team who are used to playing in this competition, and at the start we struggled against them. But we realise that if we play as a team we will learn and develop, because these players have the right characteristics to really develop at this level.”
    It felt like that, given the way the game transpired.
    Former Juventus and Italy midfielder Claudio Marchisio made a similar observation afterwards, saying that while Milan “lost their bearings” in the first half-hour, they had managed to “fall on their feet” and “played a great game against a very strong team that has been at the top for years”.
    Pioli suggested that small margins were the difference between a defeat and a well-earned draw. Maybe so. Maybe small margins were also the difference between a narrow defeat and the heavy one that looked in prospect early on. But for Milan, this always threatened to be the toughest assignment of a very tough group.
    The way they responded to adversity was encouraging. So too, perhaps, was news of a 0-0 draw between Atletico and Porto in Madrid. That will fuel Pioli’s belief that Milan can pick up points and get themselves into a challenging position before Liverpool visit San Siro on the final match-day in early December.
    The difficulty for Milan is that after so long away from the Champions League, it is not going to be easy for this group of players to gain the experience, the confidence and the authority required to play at this level. Pioli feels they will, because “they have the right characteristics to do so” and, looking at the way they developed last season and the way they grew in assurance over the course of a difficult evening at Anfield, it is easy to share his belief.
    Liverpool’s success under Klopp demonstrates how a young team, low on elite-level experience, can develop, flourish and grow. But that is easier said than done. In February, Milan scraped past Red Star Belgrade on away goals in the first knockout stage of the Europa League and lost 2-1 on aggregate to Manchester United in the 16-team next round. A Champions League group containing Liverpool, Atletico and Porto represents a real step up in quality.
    It is worth recalling neighbours Inter’s experience since coming back to the Champions League stage in 2018 after six years away.
    They announced their return with a dramatic victory over Tottenham Hotspur and there was a banner on the Curva Nord that night that declared — in English — “We are back”. Three years later, they are yet to get past the competition’s group stage. This season’s campaign began last night with a home defeat by Real Madrid.
    Getting back to the Champions League is one thing. Becoming competitive again is another.
    Maldini, who knows more about this competition than most, feels his club are rebuilding the right way — brick by brick, step by step. Their glory days feel a long time ago, but merely getting back to the Champions League, he said beforehand, is a source of pride given the depths Milan plumbed at times over the previous decade.
    It comes back to something the Italian journalist Paolo Condo said in the build-up to this game at Anfield — and it is something that Liverpool might relate to.
    “Up to a couple of years ago, in my opinion, the Milan players were overwhelmed by the weight of the past of this club,” he said. “They felt inadequate to represent a club which, after Real Madrid, has won the most in Europe. It is very important that Milan consider this match as a starting point and not a point of arrival.”
  2. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    With most of Europe’s top sides in transition, this could be another good year for English clubs in the Champions League
    By Michael Cox 5h ago[​IMG] 8 [​IMG]
    This season’s opening round of Champions League group matches was dominated by the sense that most of Europe’s top sides are in transition.
    Of the 12 clubs considered to have a vaguely decent chance of winning the 2021-22 competition by the bookmakers — Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Juventus, Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Barcelona and Inter Milan — the vast majority have undergone at least one significant change to their playing identity over the summer.
    More specifically: they’ve either lost a key attacker which will necessitate a change of approach, they’re busy trying to accommodate a new key attacker, or they’ve changed their manager. Few are immune from such upheaval, with the big English clubs notable exceptions.
    The three clubs to have lost key attackers are Barcelona, Inter and Juventus. Two of them were defeated in their opening group game. Barcelona were absolutely thrashed at the Nou Camp by a Bayern side playing at half-pace and Ronald Koeman’s side failed to record a single shot on target in a bleak demonstration of their current plight.
    For years, the all-round brilliance of Lionel Messi hid Barcelona’s steady decline into the current shambolic outfit, but his departure has left them bereft of serious quality. Luuk de Jong and Memphis Depay is actually a likeable front two — they worked together effectively when PSV Eindhoven team-mates — but they surely won’t be firing Barcelona to the European Cup; a 33-year-old Sergio Aguero, who managed just four Premier League goals last season, might not prove too useful either.
    Juventus breezed through their opening group match, demolishing Swedish hosts Malmo 3-0, but that was their first victory of the season, having collected just one point from their first three Serie A matches. They might prove a more cohesive outfit in the long run, particularly without possession, but the fact remains Juventus have lost Cristiano Ronaldo, scorer of 29 goals Serie A goals last season. Alvaro Morata and Paulo Dybala both got a goal against Malmo, but neither is regarded as consistent.
    Inter were more positive, and unfortunate to lose 1-0 to Real Madrid at San Siro, although again you couldn’t help thinking about the players who had departed — Romelu Lukaku, second to Ronaldo on Serie A’s goalscoring chart last season, might have notched one of the chances that came the way of Edin Dzeko. The now 35-year-old Bosnian is a decent replacement, but watching him and Matteo Darmian play the roles filled last season by Lukaku and Achraf Hakimi, it’s clear this is a less dynamic Inter side than the one that took the title in May. Struggling to cope with high-tempo play has often cost Italian sides in the Champions League over the last decade.
    Furthermore, Juventus and Inter are also two of the clubs to have changed manager. Massimiliano Allegri has yet to impose himself on the squad he inherited from Andrea Pirlo in Turin, while Simone Inzaghi has a tough task replacing Antonio Conte and dealing with the expectations placed on Italy’s defending champions.
    Inter’s game with Madrid offered tension, but there was also a sluggishness to both sides’s performances under new management.
    Madrid moved the ball forward alarmingly slowly at times, while it was also curious to see Carlo Ancelotti using David Alaba at centre-back with Nacho on the left. He just about got away with it, although Alaba’s impetuousness looks incongruous at Madrid rather than at a high-pressing Bayern, and Nacho offered little going forward.

    Edin Dzeko and David Alaba both made Champions League debuts for new clubs this week (Photo: Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images)
    The two big German sides have also changed their coach.
    Julian Nagelsmann’s emphasis upon pressing is already obvious, and Bayern regularly regained the ball in advanced positions against Barcelona, although in possession they were unconvincing and depended upon fortunate goals. There is clearly more to come.
    Dortmund, now coached by Marco Rose, are currently the reverse — they appear scintillating going forward, but have conceded 13 goals in six matches this season, and are yet to keep a clean sheet in any of them.
    Then there are the two sides who have signed legendary players they didn’t truly need.
    Paris Saint-Germain’s issue in recent seasons has been the lack of cohesion between an attacking trio who contribute little without the ball and the rest of the side. Messi’s arrival will only exacerbate this.
    Manchester United’s performance in their first group match was difficult to judge — Cristiano Ronaldo gave them the lead, but Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s first-half dismissal put them on the back foot. It was actually Ronaldo’s substitution that prompted the most scrutiny, with his replacement Jesse Lingard making a disastrous error for Young Boys’s stoppage-time winner. But, ultimately, that’s part of the deal when you sign Ronaldo — everything becomes about him. Had Ronaldo not been at United, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had started with Mason Greenwood up front on Tuesday and substituted him, you suspect the post-match analysis wouldn’t have been quite so pointed.
    So who does that leave? Only four sides, three of them English.
    Liverpool produced one of the most impressive performances of the round, taking into account the standard of opposition, and should have won more comfortably against AC Milan than the 3-2 final scoreline. Some of their supporters are determinedly angry about the lack of new signings, but this is a familiar, cohesive and harmonious Liverpool side, certain of their approach under Jurgen Klopp.
    The same can be said of Manchester City, who may have spent £100 million on a new attacking option, Jack Grealish, but there’s a sense that he slots in easily, and if there’s an adjustment to be made, it will be Grealish adjusting to Pep Guardiola’s system, rather than the manager having to reformat his side.
    Something similar can be said of holders Chelsea; yes, Lukaku is a major new arrival, but there’s no sense that coach Thomas Tuchel will have had sleepless nights working out how the Belgian fits in. This was the centre-forward Chelsea required last season, and his winner against Zenit Saint Petersburg was another demonstration that he’s a plug-and-play striker who significantly improves them.
    The one remaining side is Atletico Madrid, Spanish champions and perennially underrated at this stage of the competition.
    They have the same manager in Diego Simeone, a familiar starting XI but the return of Antoine Griezmann might be considered a destabilising force.
    He was only introduced at half-time on Wednesday night at the Wanda Metropolitano, where Atletico were fortunate to hang onto a goalless draw against a well-drilled Porto side, and therefore can hardly be blamed for the poor result. But the chorus of boos that greeted his arrival suggested this isn’t a problem-free re-signing, and while a few goals might change supporters’ perceptions of him, Griezmann only scored 22 in 74 La Liga games for Barcelona — there’s no guarantee he’ll be the goalscorer of old second time around.
    And therefore we’re left with two conclusions.
    First, the English clubs are in a good position this season, with settled sides and managers assured of support from the squad and the fanbase. Looking at the finals from the last three years, there have been four English sides involved, plus Bayern and PSG. Italian and Spanish clubs have taken a back seat, and may continue to do so.
    Second, very few of Europe’s top sides are up to speed yet, for understandable reasons. Already-exhausted players participated in the European Championship or the Copa America or the Olympics over the summer and came back even more jaded. The transfer window closing after the season has already started creates turbulence and uncertainty, then there was an international break featuring three games, and then players were thrown back into immediate league and Champions League action.
    Therefore, managers simply haven’t had much time on the training ground to get their teams into shape.
    Consequently, while this week’s opening set of games featured plenty of goals, genuinely impressive all-round performances were in short supply.
  3. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    Tifo video: Trent Alexander-Arnold – the midfielder
    By Alistair Clarkson Sept 17, 2021[​IMG] 31 [​IMG]
    Trent Alexander-Arnold is one of Liverpool’s best playmakers, racking up 22 assists since the start of 2019-20, more than any other defender and more than plenty of celebrated creators further forward. His range of passing is unrivalled at Liverpool, where the system is configured to make the most of his attacking skills rather than rely on his defensive ability.
    If he is more useful going forward than working back, why not just start him there? Gareth Southgate has done exactly that with England, using Alexander-Arnold as a midfielder, but does that negate his best qualities? Or can one of the Premier League’s best players become even better in a different position?
    Explained by JJ Bull.
  4. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    Homebaked: The bakery that embodies the soul of Liverpool
    Caoimhe O'Neill Sept 18, 2021[​IMG] 65 [​IMG]
    “Me nerves are shot,” says Lily Aitchison. The mum of one is working her first match-day shift at Homebaked — a community-owned bakery that opened in 2013 and is located directly across the road from Anfield.
    The Athletic has been invited to work a match day at the cafe renowned for its award-winning selection of pies.
    Laura Aney and Evie Mock are the other young women working behind the counter. They make conversation with me as I stand near the doorway that looks out onto the Sir Kenny Dalglish Stand.
    Luke McKay had been my point of contact in the weeks prior but the Everton fan, who runs the marketing side of things at Homebaked, is already on a coach to Brighton away. In an exchange of messages the night before he reminds me to ask for Angela and to wear comfy clothes.
    Angela is also a McKay. In fact, the Homebaked operations manager is Luke’s mum. When she comes to collect me from the front there is a phone clamped between her ear and shoulder. The card machine isn’t working, a problem Angela is keen to resolve with eight and a half hours until Liverpool kick off against Chelsea and with around 800 pies to sell in that time.
    While on hold, Angela roots out a black apron and blue hairnet for me to wear. She gestures for me to sign in and I am given a locker.
    Once the card machine has been revived, Angela then gathers her staff, which is also made up of her niece Jamie-Leigh Dooley and close friend Julie Coyle — the latter of whom is introduced to me as “Our Ju”.
    Last week, the team had completed their “first proper match day” in 18 months as Liverpool hosted Burnley. Angela is congratulating her team for their hard work but knows this Saturday with the kick-off slot scheduled for a later time of 5.30pm it is going to be “chaotic”.
    After Angela’s pep talk is over the group conversation switches to who supports who. Everyone except for Julie and Evie is an Everton fan. Julie makes her Liverpool allegiances as clear as she can and will continue to throughout the day. “I am not a Blue. I’m a Red, me,” she reiterates.

    The welcoming faces of the Homebaked staff. From left to right: Julie Coyle, Laura Aney, Lily Atchinson, Evie Mock
    It is now around 9:30am and the pies are beginning to be baked from frozen, which takes 35 minutes. They are no longer made on site given the increase in demand. The pies are now made in a unit in Bootle and shipped to Homebaked by baker, delivery driver and self-professed “Jack of all trades” Ian Harvey. The retired firefighter joined Homebaked two years ago because he was “bored of sitting at home”. Ian flits in and out all day with boxes of pies, some frozen, some baked.
    My first task is to glaze a batch of chicken curry pies in an egg wash before they go into the oven. An easy enough job, or so I presume as I am told off by Anthony for accidentally drowning out the name stamps in the pastry. Without this marker, you are unable to see which pie is which once they come out of the oven. During the Burnley match-day rush, the team confess they took turns trying to identify the flavour of an unknown pie that had lost its wording. None of them could figure it out so the lone pie was bagged up and labelled “Mystery pie”. It sold within minutes.
    The pies do smell incredible. The aroma meets you as soon as you step through the red doors and it does not leave. That said, Angela, now eight years in, has become immune to the smell. She tells me this talking through today’s menu.
    One of the specials is the Klopp pie. It contains steak cooked in Jurgen Klopp’s favourite German beer, Erdinger. Perhaps the signature pie is the Shankly. Homebaked has permission from Bill Shankly’s family to bake and sell the steak, onion, bacon, mushroom and gravy-filled pie.
    There are pies for Everton fans, too. Although the Rafa is currently filed under “do not make” due to the five stars imprinted on its crust. The Blue is a mix of steak and stilton, and the Trinity is a gammon, leek and cheese combo. Homebaked, who are run by a board of local people, now make pies to sell on the concourse at Goodison Park, another pointer of their growing success.
    This is not a Liverpool-themed bakery by any stretch. There is not one piece of Liverpool memorabilia hung from its walls. Angela explains how important it is to keep the space neutral for locals to enjoy it on non-match days too. It is a co-operative in the heart of the community run by and for the people. The building was home to a bakery for more than 100 years until Mitchell’s Bakery closed its doors in 2010. In 2011, as part of the Biennial, arts festival funding brought it back temporarily. That was a decade ago and due to the work of people like Angela, the bakery is still standing.
    The flats above Homebaked are rented out by local people at a fair rate. The opportunity is there for the trust to make a fortune per annum by running a match-day bed and breakfast but Homebaked’s heart is with its people.
    One of those people is Anthony Bleasdale. He has just arrived to start his shift and Angela introduces us. Anthony is from Norris Green and is in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, which he talks about openly. He describes Angela as “a second mum” and someone who has helped him turn his life around after jail time and homelessness.
    The two met at The Whitechapel Centre where Angela spent 16 years working before taking over the running of Homebaked full-time. The Whitechapel Centre is a city-centre charity providing support to those sleeping rough and others who are at risk of being homeless. It was playing for the football team, Liverpool Homeless FC, managed by Angela, that really helped the dad of two. He has now completed coaching badges, and through Homebaked, he has certificates in food and hygiene.
    “It is more than just selling pies on a match day, it gives me focus and purpose and it has changed my life,” explains Anthony, whose presence brings the Everton fan count to five. “You are lucky I don’t have my Everton top on today,” he says while shepherding pies in and out of scorching ovens. “Ar ay,” Julie responds after overhearing him.
    As that football rivalry continues to sizzle, I am called to the front by Angela to meet a regular customer, Tony Grimes, who is a volunteer at the Liverpool Irish Centre. There is a Gaelic football semi-final taking place later in the day and he needs to pick up the three loaves of bread he ordered.

    Homebaked’s famous Scouse pies
    “The ethos and camaraderie they have here in Homebaked is the same we have for the Irish community in the city, particularly the elderly,” Grimes says. He goes on to point out the importance of local businesses and organisations in Liverpool sticking together after what has been a tough time during the pandemic. This is why Homebaked buys Tayto crisps directly from the Irish Centre to sell in-store and why the Irish Centre will call on Homebaked’s services for buffets.
    “We are helping each other and this is an award-winning organisation and we want to be part of that. People can say there is no community anymore but there is. When I come in here, it uplifts me,” Grimes adds. “Every member of staff — they are all superstars. Angela is a community leader. She is focused, formidable and well-respected.”
    It is shortly after 10am now. Evie, who is studying nursing at university, offers to make everyone a drink. Conversation turns to Homebaked: The Musical, a new production based on the bakery set to debut at Liverpool’s Royal Court on September 24. “I should have been starring in it,” laughs Laura, who works for Santander during the week.
    Laura, Evie and Lily are attending the dance music festival Creamfields the following day and there is growing excitement between the trio. “Been there, done that,” Julie from Croxteth interjects. “I’ve retired now. I used to go every year to there, Glastonbury and wherever else. But my raving days are over now.”
    She says this as Anthony makes his way outside for a short break from the sweltering kitchen. Anthony chats to father and son Bill and Alex about Rafa Benitez. The pair live down south but Bill is originally from Tuebrook and they are up visiting family. “This is a little goldmine,” Bill says, moving the conversation on from whether Benitez is the right fit for Everton.
    Back inside and Ellen Mackrell, who is Angela’s sister, has clocked on. She works in a candlemakers’ factory during the week and has dropped in to help out. “I’m keeping me eye to these two gravies and this soup. I’m making sure they don’t stick,” she says while leaning back to adjust the heat on the gas stove.
    In the front, a foodbank donation has just been handed in by a French branch of Liverpool supporters. Homebaked doubles up as a drop-off spot for people wanting to donate to Fans Supporting Foodbanks (FSF). The FSF van usually turns up three hours before kick-off so any early donations are stored here.
    As this is happening another regular, Jane Boland, calls in for a mushroom and brandy pie as well as a Klopp to take away. Boland is the clinical lead at James’ Place, which is a centre that provides therapy for men in suicidal crisis in Merseyside and London. It has a big outreach campaign organised that will target the surrounding areas. Twenty-five thousand leaflets are being printed with information to help men in need. “We want them to know there is help out there,” she says warmly.
    Homebaked’s shopfront is filled with leaflets, business cards and a book swap box. They sell homemade soap and condiments made by local sellers.
    Customers are coming at us thick and fast now. Denise and Sean are up from Cornwall. Originally from Wakefield, they are having a pie on the bench outside before a wander around the stadium. Dan and Ellie are Chelsea fans. The couple spent their Friday evening having a night out on Concert Square. Laura and Evie are giving them tips on the places to go out next time they visit. This is their first time in Liverpool but they, like so many before them, have already realised this is a city that calls you back before you have even left.
    As they shuffle out, I notice Laura, Evie and Lily are being repeatedly asked, “What pies do you do?” Even having heard the question multiple times they answer with the same warmth as they did to the person before.
    With around three and a half hours left until kick-off, it is getting noticeably busier and warmer too. Anthony has the radio tuned to Everton’s game. Ellen is still ensuring nothing sticks. Angela is relaying orders to her staff. Jamie-Leigh is bagging up pies. Julie is bouncing around the place giving out high-fives. The atmosphere is family-like, which is no surprise given Angela, Ellen and Jamie-Leigh are related. But this feels like another family altogether — and one I have been made to feel a part of.
    Outside, Mark, a homeless man who frequents the doorway is asking passers-by, “Any petrol money for me Lamborghini?”, and the French supporters, who dropped off a donation earlier, are back, beers in hands, ready to purchase pies.
    Angela’s early morning fears are realised as the card machine loses connection but Laura waves it into the air like a TV antenna and gets it working. This happens as a young employee called Jack, who is a Liverpool fan and has a ticket for the Chelsea game, arrives for the pie hole shift. The pie hole is a window at the side of Homebaked where pies are sold as pre-match demand heightens.
    “The best part of the day is when the pie hole opens and that air comes in,” Jamie-Leigh says as we stand lifting our arms to the cool.

    It is now after 3pm.
    “I’m disgusted they’ve got them on the radio,” Julie says as Anthony increases the volume on Everton’s commentary. “You’ll hear our goals, you wait,” Julie says motioning towards the ground.
    Over the road and the FSF van is here. Angela takes me across to meet those involved. Just as I turn up, Billy Hogan, Liverpool’s CEO, is there with a couple of bags to donate. After a quick chat with Ian Byrne, the MP for West Derby, he heads back to the boardroom.

    Angela McKay, Homebaked’s manager
    Nicky Davies keeps me company in the sunshine. She is a volunteer at FSF but used to work at Homebaked too. “It’s a hot day today but nothing beats Homebaked on a winter night with the windows steamed up and the smell of freshly baked pies,” Davies reminisces.
    I meet another Homebaked advocate, Peter Carney. He is a renowned Liverpool banner maker. “That’s my match-day office,” Carney says. It was Carney who provided the lone scarf that is hung over the counter on a match day to signify Liverpool are playing.
    As I head back across to the shop, Pam from Brighton is with her friends Linda, Shirley and Lynn. They all live in Chester and are tucking into pies on the bench outside as Alma, an activist rallying against the arms fair scheduled to take place in the city soon, is shouting through a megaphone. Fans are everywhere now.
    Back in the kitchen and Anthony is jumping for joy with his oven gloves when Dominic Calvert-Lewin scores. “Klopp’s gone,” is the term echoing from front to back as Angela responds “more going in now”. It is 4.20pm and Julie and Jack are a force to be reckoned with. Jack is taking orders and Julie is the runner. The mad rush they warned me about is now in full flow.
    During all this, “Jake the baker” pops in to say hello with a can of San Miguel for company. “I run the place and keep it all going, don’t I, Ange?” the young man says, bringing a smile out in everybody before he leaves for the ground.
    It is 4.53pm when everything calms. Anthony is waiting for full-time at Brighton to be announced and when Everton’s 2-0 win is confirmed he throws his arms up, to Julie’s disdain.
    There are plenty of pies left so Homebaked will not close early tonight. The pie hole, however, is closed. Jack shuts up and heads into the stadium. It is at 5.14pm when the first “Liverpool, Liverpool, Liverpool” chant echoes onto the shop floor.
    A fan from Belfast, who is a little bit worse for wear, is charging his phone to no avail. His ticket is on there and while waiting for it to revive, he orders a chicken curry pie. As he stumbles out, a gang of ticketless Welsh lads on a stag do stumble in. They are dressed up as WWE wrestlers.

    (Photo: Tom Jenkins)
    As they order, Liverpool’s pitchside announcer is reading out the starting XI and you can hear a cheer go up for each name. The wrestlers are still around when You’ll Never Walk Alone strikes up. Hearing it from outside of the stadium is an indescribably special feeling. The voices on the Kop and around the ground lift into the clear sky and pour out towards us on Oakfield Road.
    The match has kicked off now and Evie brings the radio down to the front. A cheer goes up inside the stadium but it’s not loud enough for a Liverpool goal and Julie’s fears are realised when the radio tells us Kai Havertz has headed Chelsea into the lead with 22 minutes gone. “Don’t worry, you’ll hear it when we score,” Julie encourages. “Plenty of time left yet!”
    Anthony is rejoicing in Chelsea’s goal and Julie responds by singing with the crowd as she brushes around. The oohs and ahhs filter in and make the radio’s commentary redundant.
    Alma and her activist friends have returned and are sitting in the four seats that face out onto Skerries Road. Three of the Welsh wrestlers appear out of nowhere for more pies. The odd customer comes and goes but it is mostly quiet now.
    Julie is pacing. Looking over to the ground hoping for a noise loud enough. Her pacing is rewarded when the noise for the penalty blasts at us. Evie is leaning into the radio and telling us what is being said. “Handball on the line, Reece James sent off.” Before she can say anything else, we know Mohamed Salah has scored because the noise of the crowd hits us and the Salah song soon follows. Julie grabs hold of me to celebrate.
    At half-time, Julie and Jamie-Leigh leave. They live further away than everyone else and Angela orders they beat the post-match rush by going now.
    Once the second half starts up, Angela tells Evie to go and give the steward who monitors Donaldson Street’s road closure sign a coffee. Soon after, Laura is given a bag of cream scones to take across to the adjacent neighbours. “Don’t forget Brenda and Irene,” Angela says, giving out their house numbers.
    “They were all made up with their scones,” Laura says returning just as Angela shepherds in a passer-by called Jamie. She gives him pies to take with him and won’t take no for an answer.
    I am taken aback by how routine the staff’s wholesome gestures are. While Edouard Mendy is pulling off another save for Chelsea and while Andrew Robertson’s song is being sung, and echoed at us on a radio delay, this is what is happening outside the ground.
    Everyone is so focused on what is happening inside Anfield, many might fail to realise the community spirit in action. Homebaked is at the centre of this. It is a lifeline for the city and its lifeblood. With 10 minutes to go, Angela tells me to head home.
    I leave with pies and hugs.
  5. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    Sadio Mane’s Liverpool century
    By Caoimhe O'Neill and Mark Carey Sept 19, 2021[​IMG] 37 [​IMG]
    Sadio Mane, welcome to the hundred club.
    The Senegal international’s first-half finish against Crystal Palace at Anfield saw him join an elite an illustrious group. Mane is the 18th player in Liverpool’s 128-year history to score 100 goals or more for the club. He reached the feat in 224 appearances and is the 10th quickest to reach the landmark.
    The 29-year-old’s strike against Palace means he is the only player in Premier League history to score against the same opponent in a run of nine games. A day of records for the winger then.
    The Athletic have taken a look back at some of his best work in a Liverpool shirt as well as a full breakdown of the century.

    Arsenal, 2016
    Where better to start than at the beginning of Mane’s Liverpool odyssey?
    The road to his hot 100 started at the Emirates, two months after he joined the club from Southampton under scepticism over his £34 million price tag.
    Mane, initially dispatched as a right winger before Mohamed Salah’s arrival the following season, latched onto Adam Lallana’s pass and left defenders Nacho Monreal and Calum Chambers in his wake as he weaved his way into the Arsenal box. He then knitted an excellent finish beyond Petr Cech.

    Not only is this a spectacular solo jaunt but it is remembered for the celebrations too.
    Instead of legging it to the South East corner, which was going berserk, Mane wanted to thank the man who brought him to Liverpool. Pointing out Jurgen Klopp on the touchline, Mane proceeded to jump on the back of his new boss.
    A moment immortalised in tweet form by James Pearce.

    Everton, 2016
    A last-minute winner in a Merseyside derby? This is the goal which entered Mane’s name into folklore. It is not his most magnificent finish of the 100 but is one of his most memorable. Particularly in his instinct to lurk after Daniel Sturridge’s shot. It provoked bedlam in the Goodison away end.

    Manchester City, 2018
    The commentary on this goal says it all.
    This long-range stunner against City in January 2018 might be Mane’s purest strike of all.
    Struck into the top left corner, Ederson had no chance. It also helps remind us just how much Mane likes to point his finger after he has scored.

    Porto, 2018
    Away to Porto in the Champions League round of 16 en route to the final in Kiev, Mane scored from outside the box with his right foot to complete a Valentine’s Day hat-trick — his only Liverpool treble to date.

    Manchester United, 2020
    In real time this goal looks good but when it is slowed down you realise just how great it is.
    The way Mane coaxes Fabinho’s ball on his chest and then swipes at it with his left — it is hypnotising.
    That it arrived against Manchester United makes it infinitely more special. It is the type of goal to get rolled out in highlight reels when the two sides meet every season.

    Watford, 2019
    Mane has scored five times in seven outings against Watford in a Liverpool shirt — and this backheel might well be the pick of a really good bunch.
    His heavy first touch is repaired by his quick-thinking reaction. Mane’s ingenuity here, and his unpredictability throughout his time at Liverpool, has been joyous to watch.

    Bayern Munich, 2019
    Virgil van Dijk’s quarter-back pass was pinpoint but it was also hit with an element of hope.
    Mane made the Dutchman’s lofty ball look to be the perfect one as he tamed it with his right foot before circling around Manuel Neuer and finishing with his left.

    Aston Villa, 2019
    Mane has scored 16 headers for Liverpool and this one against Aston Villa might be his most well-known.
    This header at the front post won Liverpool the game in the final seconds against Villa in November 2019.
    Last-minute winners are always remembered fondly by fans and this goal was credited with keeping the title-winning momentum on track.

    The breakdown
    Mane’s goals for Liverpool appear to mirror the trend that Liverpool seem to have had themselves over recent years, whereby they dominate early on and their pressure tells midway through the first half.
    His 22 goals between the 16th and 30th minute has been his most prolific period in games.
    Just as he did at Villa Park, Mane has scored six times in stoppage time too.
    It is well-documented how Mane struggled for goalscoring form last season, but aside from that anomaly his goalscoring rate in all competitions has hovered around 0.5 goals per 90.
    It is early days in this season’s campaign, but following his goal on Saturday, his rate so far looks to be returning to what we have been accustomed to. With three goals in six games in all competitions, Mane is scoring at a rate of 0.57 goals per 90 so far.
    When you consider the wide range of competitions that Liverpool have competed in, including the Club World Cup, Super Cup and Community Shield, Mane’s goals have only spanned across four competitions.
    Two of those goals were in a single game in the Super Cup against Chelsea at the start of the 2019-20 season.
    The large proportion of his goals have come in the league. Mane does seem to save his scoring for the Premier League and Champions League.
    In terms of opponents, Mane’s 100 goals have come against 37 different teams.
    He certainly looks to have his favourite teams to come up against in the league. Crystal Palace are top of the shop for Mane with him having scored his 10th goal in total against them during Liverpool’s recent 3-0 win.
    Arsenal also seem to be a favourable team for Mane, with the Senegal forward adding five further goals after that on his debut.
    He has helped himself to five against Watford, West Ham, Burnley and Chelsea respectively but will want to improve on his solitary effort against rivals Manchester United.
    Mane has had plenty of goals which have been crafted by his own hard work, notably against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last term.

    But it is not hard to guess who the players are who provide Mane most — Roberto Firmino and Salah.
    Of the 83 assists to Mane, Firmino has notched the most (17), while Salah has added 13.
    Below those two, there is another duo who have assisted Mane a lot — 17 times in total.
    They are full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold, with nine, and Andy Robertson’s eight.
    He will soon have another milestone to celebrate too — he is two goals away from becoming the 31st player to join the Premier League 100 club.
    The boy from Bambali, Senegal, continues to conquer.
    doctor_mac likes this.
  6. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    In which positions can a team have a glaring weakness but still win the Premier League title?
    By Michael Cox Sept 19, 2021[​IMG] 98 [​IMG]
    It is widely accepted that Manchester United didn’t need Cristiano Ronaldo.
    United pounced to re-sign a club legend from under the noses of their neighbours and rivals City, loading up further on attackers (almost accidentally) while continuing to neglect a more pressing concern — the lack of quality deep-lying midfielders.
    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer now has Ronaldo, Edinson Cavani, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Jadon Sancho competing for three attacking slots. With Bruno Fernandes undroppable in the No 10 position and Donny van de Beek as his back-up, that leaves Fred, Scott McTominay, Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba competing for the two deep midfield slots.
    That situation is complicated by the fact Solskjaer evidently doesn’t fully trust Pogba to play centrally against strong opposition — and the Frenchman’s excellent performances in the first two games of this campaign did come from a wide role. But using him out there seems less viable after the addition of Ronaldo. Although Ronaldo probably won’t regularly start wide himself, his presence means Greenwood, Rashford and Martial will get most of their opportunities on the flanks.
    And while the other central midfield options aren’t disastrous — Matic is a two-time Premier League winner, McTominay is a more talented footballer than many initially assumed, and Fred has 18 caps for Brazil — it’s clear United are lacking in this position compared to the clubs who are their likely title rivals.
    Few league-winning sides are genuinely complete in every area, though. Even the best teams have areas of weakness or players they would like to sign upgrades for.
    In what positions, though, have Premier League champions been able to get away with a glaring weakness..?


    It’s common to hear pundits state that you can’t win the Premier League title without a top-class goalkeeper — the likes of Manuel Almunia and Simon Mignolet have previously been cited as a barrier to serious success.
    History largely bears this out — it’s difficult to find many substandard title-winning goalkeepers in the 29 years of the Premier League.
    The closest thing is Manchester United in 1999-2000, the season after Peter Schmeichel’s post-treble departure. United brought in Mark Bosnich, who didn’t perform well initially, so Alex Ferguson turned briefly to Schmeichel’s back-up Raimond van der Gouw before attempting to solve the problem with summer buy Massimo Taibi.
    But the Italian proved disastrous, memorably letting a feeble Matt Le Tissier effort squirm between his legs in a 3-3 draw with Southampton, then conceding five away at Chelsea the following weekend. Ferguson reinstated Bosnich, then went back to Van der Gouw for the final few matches. After a season of discussion about United’s goalkeeping crisis, he then signed 1998 World Cup winner Fabien Barthez, who made some high-profile errors but was largely an excellent goalkeeper.
    Arsenal in 2001-02 are also a curious case. David Seaman was still a fine goalkeeper at age 38 but injury restricted him to 17 starts, and back-up Richard Wright made a dreadful error by punching the ball into his own net in a shock 4-2 loss at home to Charlton and was replaced by third-choice Stuart Taylor, who ended up making nine starts that season, only three fewer than Wright. Seaman returned to the team after injury, but Arsenal had to cope between late September and mid-February without a top goalkeeper. They got away with it, mostly thanks to their solid back four.
    Arguably, Joe Hart was no longer a standout keeper when Manchester City won their second Premier League title in 2013-14, being replaced for seven games that season by Costel Pantilimon. But otherwise, the lesson from the last decade is that a top-class goalkeeper is necessary — Petr Cech, Edwin van der Sar, the 2011-12 version of Hart, David de Gea, Thibaut Courtois, Kasper Schmeichel, Ederson and Alisson. This is not a position where compromise is possible.

    Mark Bosnich replaced Peter Schmeichel at Manchester United in the summer of 1999 (Photo: Getty)

    Full-backs are often considered more important these days than ever before, but realistically, top clubs can afford to have a steady operator rather than a world-beater. Liverpool’s 2019-20 pair of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson is extremely rare — few title winners have had an outstanding full-back on both flanks. It’s more common for them to have one reliable performer and one slight compromise on the other flank.
    Manchester City have won three of the last four titles without ever really sorting out their left-back position — Fabian Delph, Danilo and Benjamin Mendy played there during Pep Guardiola first two Premier League-winning campaigns, and Oleksander Zinchenko and Joao Cancelo rotated last season, but neither of them is a natural left-sided defender.
    Leicester City’s Danny Simpson and Christian Fuchs are the most obvious examples of journeyman full-backs who won the Premier League, with both staying deep and tucking inside for Claudio Ranieri rather than pushing forward. Looking further into history, various full-backs were steady rather than spectacular, from Henning Berg doing a job for Blackburn Rovers in 1994-95 to William Gallas unhappily playing left-back under Jose Mourinho at Chelsea. Branislav Ivanovic was also an awkward right-back during 2009-10, lacking drive in possession, although the former central defender later excelled in that role.
    Aleksandar Kolarov was dynamic going forward but poor defensively, and if you open this up to wing-backs, you can say the same of Marcos Alonso at Chelsea. On the opposite side, Victor Moses was also something of a surprise title-winning wing-back during that 2016-17 season under Antonio Conte.
    The current trend for asymmetrical attacking, with one full-back bombing on and the other tucking inside — think Leonardo Spinazzola and Giovanni De Lorenzo for Italy at this summer’s European Championship — means two top-class full-backs probably aren’t necessary.
    Aaron Wan-Bissaka might not rack up 10 assists, but as long as Luke Shaw is contributing enough in attack, Manchester United can live with a steady right-back.

    Each of the last 11 Premier League champions has had a centre-back voted into the Premier League’s team of the year. Sometimes, these are unarguably world-class operators — John Terry and Virgil van Dijk — and sometimes they feel like decent defenders who were playing at a level they might not sustain — Wes Morgan and Nicolas Otamendi.
    Ideally, you want a partnership who work well together. Ruben Dias and John Stones complement one another excellently, for example. But Manchester City won the league in 2018-19 without a settled pairing — Aymeric Laporte had an excellent campaign but was joined at various stages by either Otamendi, Stones or Vincent Kompany. It’s also worth mentioning that few considered Joleon Lescott (2011-12) or Martin Demichelis (2013-14) particularly solid partners for Kompany.
    The season before last, Van Dijk was a Liverpool ever-present but Joe Gomez only started 22 games, with Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip often filling in. And when Manchester United won the Premier League in Ferguson’s final season (2012-13), the partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans was his most-used centre-back duo but started together only 12 times.
    History suggests you need one dominant, commanding centre-back. The man alongside him largely needs to be a complementary partner rather than a fellow world-beater.

    Martin Demichelis won a Premier League title and two League Cups in three years at Manchester City (Photo: Getty Images)
    Central midfield

    It’s difficult to find a successful Premier League side who had anything other than serious quality in the centre of the pitch.
    Even surprise 2015-16 title winners Leicester had N’Golo Kante, an elite ball-winner. Alongside him, Danny Drinkwater enjoyed an anomalously excellent campaign courtesy of his passing range.
    Manchester United in 2012-13 are again worthy of consideration — Michael Carrick enjoyed a very good year but he lacked a reliable partner, with Tom Cleverley his most regular companion. That was the season where a 38-year-old Paul Scholes finally signed off having surprisingly come out of retirement midway through 2011-12. Anderson, Phil Jones and a 39-year-old Ryan Giggs also featured in the middle.
    Blackburn had to cope for almost the entire 1994-95 campaign without dependable holding midfielder David Batty, with Mark Atkins coming into the side and playing well alongside Tim Sherwood. (Kenny Dalglish’s side nearly blew the title in the closing weeks, however, and it’s debatable whether that campaign has sufficient relevance to the present day anyway.)
    History suggests a solid presence in the centre of midfield is required. They can be tenacious all-rounders such as Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira or solid sitters in the mould of Claude Makelele and Fabinho. It can be a highly technical trio — think Fernandinho, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva — or it can be more of a supporting base for the attacking talents, such as Kante and Matic. But you do need quality.
    Matic is, of course, relevant considering his current role at Manchester United, although he is now 33. In 2014-15, his Chelsea partnership with Cesc Fabregas was loose, with the Spaniard positionally indisciplined and Matic relatively immobile even then. Two years later, the energy was supplied by Kante, with Fabregas easing out Matic towards the end of the campaign.
    Essentially, it’s difficult to find a title-winning midfield partnership as weak as the best pairing United could field against West Ham today (Sunday).

    Manchester United’s first-choice wingers in 2012-13 were Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young, who scored just one goal between them. Valencia, in fairness, got five assists — all for Robin van Persie — and Young contributed three more, but neither was a consistent attacking force by this stage, and both were later shifted to play as a true full-back.
    Blackburn’s duo of Stuart Ripley and Jason Wilcox feel somewhat primitive in hindsight but were highly effective, at their sole job of assisting their strikers. The likes of Ray Parlour, James Milner and Marc Albrighton weren’t world class, but played balancing roles on the opposite flank to those who were — Marc Overmars, David Silva and Riyad Mahrez.
    But wingers tend to define Premier League champions, from the searing speed of Giggs and Overmars to Ronaldo’s and Mohamed Salah’s goalscoring feats. Aside from that United team, at least one world-class player is required here.

    Arsenal’s Overmars and Parlour terrorised full-backs in very different ways in 1997-98 (Photo: Getty Images)

    Almost every Premier League-winning side has boasted an obvious creator who excels at playing killer passes.
    That has been, at various stages, traditional No 10s such as Dennis Bergkamp, wide players drifting inside such as Silva, onrushing central midfielders such as De Bruyne, or false nines such as Roberto Firmino.
    There are probably only two exceptions: Blackburn 1994-95 and various incarnations of Chelsea, where Frank Lampard was more of a goalscorer than an assister. That Blackburn side depended upon crossing, the Chelsea ones on the counter-attack.
    These days, neither approach is likely to be enough.
    A prolific striker

    You categorically do not need a prolific centre-forward.
    Manchester City’s top league scorer last season was midfielder Ilkay Gundogan with 13. Raheem Sterling contributed 10, with Gabriel Jesus, Phil Foden and Mahrez all on nine. Guardiola’s summer pursuit of Harry Kane indicated he wanted an upgrade up front, but City coped fine last season without Sergio Aguero’s usual stream of goals.
    A year earlier, Firmino managed only nine league goals despite starting 34 games and coming off the bench in the other four. Amazingly, he didn’t score at Anfield until the night Liverpool lifted the Premier League trophy.
    Going further back, in Mourinho’s first two campaigns at Chelsea, Eidur Gudjohnsen (2004-05) and then Didier Drogba (2005-06) were the side’s most prolific strikers. Both only netted 12 times, with Lampard outscoring them in both campaigns, in part thanks to penalties.
    The Premier League title winners haven’t boasted the Golden Boot winner, incidentally, since Van Persie in 2012-13. His contributions that season made up for United’s weaknesses elsewhere.

    Eidur Gudjohnsen may not have been prolific, but Frank Lampard was… (Photo: Getty Images)

    Have there been any truly complete Premier League-winning sides, with top-class players in every position? Probably. Arsenal’s Invincibles and the Manchester United side of the mid-late 2000s are certainly contenders.
    But there are often more weaknesses than you might think.
    Teams can afford to have an average full-back, and if they have one outstanding centre-back, his partner can be merely decent.
    Similarly, top-class wingers on both flanks are relatively rare. Sides without a defined creator of chances have prospered previously — although less so in the modern era — and a prolific No 9 now seems to be a luxury rather than a necessity.
    But central midfield and — in recent years — goalkeeper are two areas that demand quality.
    Troublingly for Manchester United, those are the two areas with their biggest question marks.
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  7. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    Solanke: Being at Chelsea and Liverpool was like taking a Master’s degree in being a striker
    Simon Johnson Sept 19, 2021[​IMG] 43 [​IMG]
    Dominic Solanke has a confession to make.
    “In my senior career, this is the best frame of mind I have ever been in,” he tells The Athletic. “I am scoring regularly, which is something I have enjoyed doing since I was a young boy. I’m just happy that it’s going well at the moment.”
    He celebrated his 24th birthday this week by scoring in Bournemouth’s 2-1 win over Queens Park Rangers. It was Solanke’s fifth goal in six appearances and his impressive form is helping the Championship club make a strong start to their promotion bid.
    Life couldn’t be going much better for the one-time England international right now. People are taking note of his performances again and the striker’s vast potential looks like it is being realised.
    This is some turnaround given the number of setbacks he suffered after making his Chelsea debut six weeks after his 17th birthday.

    Solanke will never forget the day Jose Mourinho singled out him and two close academy friends, Lewis Baker and Izzy Brown, for praise. The club were on a pre-season tour and the Chelsea manager was being asked about the club’s prospects of bringing youth talent into the first-team squad.
    “My conscience is simple,” Mourinho said. “If, in a few years, Baker, Brown and Solanke are not national team players, I should blame myself. When they become Chelsea players, they will become England players, almost for sure.”
    Three months later, it appeared Mourinho was going to be accurate as far as Solanke was concerned. The striker became the club’s youngest debutant in the Champions League when he came on for the last 17 minutes against Maribor. However, that was as good as it got at his boyhood club. He didn’t get to play for the first team again.

    Mourinho gives instructions to Solanke as he makes his debut in 2014 against Maribor (Photo: AMA/Corbis via Getty Images)
    As for Baker and Brown, they also have one brief appearance to their name. The former is part of the current squad but it appears to be only by default after several disappointing loans. The latter was released in the summer and is recovering from a ruptured achilles at new club Preston.
    Understandably, Solanke looks back on Mourinho’s comments with mixed emotions. “With him being one of the best managers in the world, it was a nice thing to hear,” Solanke explains. “That showed what he did think of us back then.
    “But did it put an extra burden, pressure and expectation on me? Yes. However, It is something you have to deal with. People say different things all the time, if it happens or doesn’t happen, it is down to you.
    “I didn’t end up playing a lot. I got my debut but things didn’t work out. In football, it’s weird, there are times you can make that transition smoothly. I didn’t feel my transition was that smooth, which didn’t help me.”
    His academy coaches expected much greater things. Adrian Viveash, who worked with various age groups at Chelsea for nine years, told The Athletic in 2019 how he was one of the two best players he ever oversaw.
    This all-round quality was particularly on show in 2014-15. He ended the campaign being named Chelsea’s academy player of the season having enjoyed a great race with another friend in the set-up, Tammy Abraham, to be top scorer. They scored a remarkable 41 goals each.
    “We are competitive people and want to score,” Solanke says. “Throughout most of our childhood, we were trying to get as many as we could, to get ahead of the other. We pushed each other to get the most goals, we both wanted that.
    “That year, maybe if one of us scored and the other didn’t, one of us would be upset for a while! But we were assisting each other quite a lot so it was a healthy relationship.
    “Tammy has been a source of inspiration for me over the last few years. Growing up, all we wanted was that chance to play for Chelsea and he was the one that got that chance. He took it, a few other youngsters did too, it was good to see and now he is at Roma. When we were young it didn’t happen often, but now we are seeing quite a few of the youngsters play. It’s really good for all of them.”

    Solanke and Abraham share a joke during an England Under-21 training session in 2017 (Photo: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
    Like for so many Chelsea youth players, it was never going to be easy for Solanke to progress. He had Diego Costa, Didier Drogba, Loic Remy, Radamel Falcao and Michy Batshuayi to compete with for places up front.
    In 2015, the club decided he should spend the season on loan at Vitesse Arnhem, a club accustomed to being sent their best young talent. Solanke admits “it wasn’t my favourite destination” and it showed, with seven goals in 25 appearances.
    That kind of number was never going to catch the manager’s eye and when he returned Mourinho had been replaced by Antonio Conte. Solanke was also hesitating about signing a new contract, concerned — just as we saw with other youngsters this summer — about a lack of a pathway into the first team.
    With his deal running out in 2017 and no extension being signed, Chelsea didn’t loan out Solanke or utilise him in the senior squad. Instead, he was practically ignored, training with the under-23s and playing just six times for them. The view was that if he wasn’t going to stay then why play him ahead of another prodigy?
    If that wasted year wasn’t hard enough to deal with, reports claimed that the impasse was being caused because Chelsea were refusing to meet his wage demands of £50,000 a week. It meant many of the club’s fans also turned against him on social media as they felt he had put personal wealth over a future at Stamford Bridge. The claims were wrong and one newspaper printed an apology, but the damage was done.
    “That hurt me because I just wanted to play football,” he insists. “I can’t remember who wrote the story and they ended up apologising, but it was too late because everyone believed it. That is what happens when people see stuff.
    “It was (painful). I’d been at Chelsea from the age of seven. I would never do something to disrespect the club. I just felt bad when all that stuff came out, I didn’t enjoy it. My last season was very difficult for me. Everyone could see that. It was a year of waiting. It wasn’t good to leave the club on something like that.”
    Perhaps it didn’t help in the court of public opinion that Solanke opted to make Liverpool his next destination, a squad already boasting Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Daniel Sturridge.
    He still made 27 appearances in 2017-18, but only six were starts and there was just one goal to show for his efforts, which came on the final day of the Premier League that year against Brighton. It turned out to be his last outing for Liverpool and he was sold to Bournemouth for £17 million the following January.

    Solanke struggled to nail down a starting spot at Liverpool due to a front three of Firmino, Salah (right) and Mane (Photo: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
    So looking back, why did he leave Chelsea for a club with similar competition for places? “I’m not too sure,” he confesses. “I just felt at the time it was somewhere they did give opportunities to young players. Liverpool were rebuilding and had a fresh squad.
    “I spoke with the coach (Jurgen Klopp) before I joined. (He told me) that I’d be part of the plans and I did feel like that. They showed a lot of interest and it was a massive club, somewhere I wanted to go. I wanted to grow as a professional player.
    “But when I was there the front three were amazing and I don’t think many people would have got a look in. I enjoyed my time there. I don’t regret anything.”
    Things didn’t get any easier at Bournemouth either. It took a year for him to get his first goal for the club and they were relegated from the Premier League in 2020. Instead of being talked about as an exciting player for the future, now comments were of the more negative variety, that he was a waste of money and so on.
    “Of course things got to me,” he concedes. “It would get to a lot of people. But you have to believe in yourself and keep going. There was never a point where I would stop trying.
    “I just kept talking to friends and family. I am close to my family, especially my mother. She has always been through everything with me in my career. I was speaking with her and she was helping me.
    “In football, there are going to be highs and lows. I did struggle with confidence and stuff like that throughout my career. I started watching sport documentaries involving big names like Michael Jordan in The Last Dance and ones with Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Nicolas Anelka. When you look at them and the stories of these athletes, it is mind-blowing how dedicated and focused they are. That can help you with any stage of your career.
    “I watch them not just for how they played, but how they coped with the difficult times. It’s not all positive, you can always see the downsides as well. But that elite mentality is what keeps them up at the top. Dealing with those things and always believing in themselves. Now I am seeing my rewards.”

    Solanke scores against Queens Park Rangers earlier this week (Photo: Robin Jones – AFC Bournemouth/AFC Bournemouth via Getty Images)
    There has still been the disappointment of Bournemouth losing the Championship play-off semi-final in May to process after contributing 15 goals. Manager Scott Parker, who was appointed in the summer, is also the fourth coach he has worked under since arriving on the south coast.
    But just as in his academy days at Chelsea, finding the net is now expected rather than hoped for. He says: “Thankfully, I’ve had a good run of games, that has helped me and I have been scoring more regularly.
    “When Eddie Howe was here I did play more of a No 10 position, but last season and this season I have been pretty much the No 9. The playing style now helps me get chances, gets me involved in the games. It is working well.
    “My finishing is more instinctive. You start getting into positions where they know you will be able to sniff a goal. That has come with all the playing time, training with them every day. We are forming a good link.”

    Drogba, Costa, Salah, Mane and Firmino. It reads like a list involving some of the Premier League’s most influential strikers. These men played a major part in Solanke’s limited minutes at Chelsea and Liverpool, but you could also argue they also helped fine-tune his craft.
    Who better to learn from? The quintet have scored 422 goals in England’s top division between them and were a part of six title-winning teams (2005, 2006, 2010, 2015, 2017, 2020).
    It is why Solanke sees the positives out of his period in the senior Chelsea and Liverpool squads. “Do I feel it was like taking a Master’s in being a striker at university? Yes. The things I’ve seen I still think about today. Being around them every day, every game just puts good habits into your mind.
    “Take Drogba. He was my biggest idol when I was growing up. I was lucky enough to be around him especially when he came back to Chelsea the second time. He was always helping me.
    “I remember one session and we were just doing a finishing drill. After it ended, he pulled me to one side and spoke to me about different finishes I could do. He was always trying to give his opinion. He would be talking to me about what angle to put my body in, how to use my body against defenders, stuff like that.
    “Even to this day, I watch clips of him. It is something I still like to look at and work on because he was so strong. The way he used his body to bully defenders is something I want to do as well.
    “He was very honest with his opinions. So being young, if he saw I wasn’t shooting with purpose, he would be like, ‘Come on! Believe in yourself!’. To have those moments with him were very special.”
    The language barrier meant he didn’t have quite the same bond with Costa, but seeing him in action was enough and “the way he just gave everything on the pitch”.
    It was a similar story with Salah, Mane and Firmino at Anfield, with his one full season there coinciding with the club’s run to the first Champions League final under Klopp, where they lost to Real Madrid.

    Drogba would always give Solanke tips in Chelsea training (Photo: Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
    “Just watching those three fly through teams in Europe was amazing,” Solanke says with a smile. “I learned something from all three. They are all different and also hungry. You can see that with the success they’ve had. They’d work on things in training, always practising to try and get better. They were always giving their all and you could see their quality.”
    He also had important tuition of a different kind for 12 months, being man-marked by Virgil van Dijk in practice matches.
    “Virgil is probably the best centre-half in the world so just getting the chance to play and train against him, it’s not going to get any harder than that,” he continues.
    “I just remember him being so strong and quick. I needed to turn and move the ball quickly around him because if he gets hold of you, he is so tough. It was a different level.”
    Did he ever get past him? “We played lots of games, so yes,” he replied with a grin. “There will always be times where you get the better of someone, but he was always so solid. It’s not easy to beat him so when you do it’s a boost to your confidence.
    “I showed him up, to be fair, when it came to basketball. I remember we had a training camp in Marbella and me, Joel Matip, Joe Gomez and Virgil went to a basketball court.
    “We did some shooting drills rather than two vs two. There’s no chance I could dunk on him but I remember winning the shooting competitions”
    Solanke is aiming to win promotion with Bournemouth so he can come up against Van Dijk on the biggest stage. It is a measure of his mindset right now that his England ambitions have been reinvigorated too.
    He has one cap against Brazil in 2017 to his name but he would like to add to that tally. “It is something I want to start thinking about again,” he says. “It was difficult when I wasn’t playing. I couldn’t think about it. But now I am playing and scoring regularly again, hopefully, I’m going to keep on improving, get back to the Premier League and then carry on from there.”
    Perhaps Mourinho’s forecast about Solanke will be proved right after all.
  8. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    ‘Incredible’ Ibrahima Konate was worth the wait…
    By James Pearce 4h ago[​IMG] 15 [​IMG]
    Patience has been a virtue for Ibrahima Konate.
    Liverpool’s £35 million signing from RB Leipzig spent the opening month of the season watching from the bench.
    Rather than throw his new recruit straight in, Jurgen Klopp opted to play Joel Matip alongside the commanding Virgil van Dijk.
    The manager believed Liverpool would benefit most from the understanding that existed between two experienced centre-backs who had recovered from serious injuries. He also felt that Konate needed more time on the training field to adapt to what was expected from him tactically.
    Klopp reassured the young French defender that his time would come and Saturday’s hard-fought victory over Crystal Palace gave him the opportunity to showcase why he was Liverpool’s No 1 transfer target this summer. He did not disappoint.
    Konate completed 48 of his 55 passes (87 per cent) and made three tackles, three clearances, two blocks and an interception. He got better the longer the game went on.
    “We all saw what kind of potential the boy has — it’s incredible,” said Klopp. “Physicality, technique, game understanding, it’s all there. He’s in a really good way. There is a lot more to come from him.”
    Konate was too strong for Wilfried Zaha when danger lurked in the first half and then too quick for Christian Benteke as he tracked back to snuff out the threat of the former Liverpool striker.
    There was a moment in the second half when it appeared that substitute Odsonne Edouard had got away from him before Alisson intervened but replays showed that Konate’s boot had diverted the ball away from goal.
    His pace is ideally suited to Klopp’s high defensive line and his aerial prowess will prove invaluable in both boxes.
    Konate’s debut was all the more impressive considering that it arrived on a day when Liverpool fielded a completely changed back four.
    Klopp had always intended to rest Matip and Andy Robertson after their midweek exploits against AC Milan but he was forced to do without Trent Alexander-Arnold after the right-back was struck down by illness after breakfast on Saturday.
    “A bit of Zaha-itis or something like that,” joked James Milner, who deputised brilliantly at right-back. No-one on the pitch had more touches (113) or made more passes (69), crosses (13) or tackles (4) than the 35-year-old who continues to defy the ageing process. “Millie played outstanding — like a young man,” said Klopp.
    On the other flank, Kostas Tsimikas once again endeared himself to Anfield with his combative defending and the creative spark he provided going forward. All three goals came from corners and the Greece international swung in two of them.
    After a difficult first season at Liverpool, Tsimikas has earned the manager’s trust. Klopp can now give Robertson a breather safe in the knowledge that his deputy can fill the void.
    Following the wins over Leeds United and Milan, it was the third time in the space of a week that Klopp’s men had scored three. Sadio Mane celebrated his 100th goal for the club as he set a Premier League record of netting against the same opponent in nine successive meetings. Mohamed Salah’s close-range volley killed Palace off before substitute Naby Keita’s stunning late strike — his first goal for 14 months — gave the scoreline a flattering look.

    Liverpool were far from their sparkling best. It was hardly a surprise that it was disjointed and scrappy at times given the six changes and the energy-sapping midweek Champions League assignment. Diogo Jota, who was guilty of an inexplicable first-half miss, looked jaded. Credit to Palace too because they refused to go quietly.
    But Klopp’s mission to recapture the title is built on solid foundations. Five games, four clean sheets and one goal conceded — Kai Havertz’s clever looping header from a Chelsea corner. Opponents are averaging just three attempts on target per game.
    Given the unprecedented defensive injury problems which wrecked last season, Klopp has gone from one extreme to the other. Now he has options in abundance.
    The structure of the team has been restored by the return of Van Dijk. Every department is functioning better with the Dutchman back on board. They look like a proper unit again.
    On the rare occasions that opponents have managed to pick holes in the back line, Alisson has been at his best. You get past one brick wall and then you are presented with another one.
    After the eye-catching attacking fluency of recent triumphs, Saturday was testament to Liverpool’s mentality and resilience as they dug deep to get the job done.
    Klopp intends to keep rotating. He will not over-burden Van Dijk, Matip or Joe Gomez after their long absences. There is no need to take risks.
    Van Dijk had his feet up in midweek when Gomez made his first start for 10 months. Having started five successive games for Liverpool for the first time in two years, Matip was given a breather on Saturday.
    The smart money suggests that Gomez and Nat Phillips will be paired together for Tuesday’s Carabao Cup tie away to Norwich City. There will be wholesale changes. Exciting teenager Kaide Gordon is in contention for his senior debut, while Klopp is likely to turn to Caoimhin Kelleher, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Curtis Jones, Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi.
    Key personnel will be rested before Saturday’s trip to Brentford which is followed by a Champions League trip to Porto. Roberto Firmino will resume full training this week after a hamstring problem but Thiago will undergo a scan after he was forced off on Saturday due to pain in his calf.
    Thirteen points out of a possible 15 and momentum growing with Salah and Mane leading the charge. However, it is that defensive solidity which has been most striking about their domestic challenge so far.
    Konate may have to wait to become a regular given Matip’s form but the new boy’s quality is clear. Klopp has an embarrassment of riches in a department which was left almost empty last season.
  9. rurikbird

    rurikbird Part of the Furniture Honorary Member

    Aug 24, 2006
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    New York, NY
    Ouch, Brendan would have HATED this article. Completely destroys one of his famous postulates.
  10. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    Liverpool’s prowess from corners, versatile Gray looks a steal and Chelsea’s 10 different scorers
    By Mark Carey Sept 21, 2021[​IMG] 32 [​IMG]
    Manchester United are still the comeback kings, picking up where they left off last season, their cross-town rivals Manchester City continue to lurch between feast and famine in front of goal, while Brighton are finally reaping the rewards their performances deserved last campaign. Graham Potter’s side have won four of their first five league matches this term and are fourth in the table, above Pep Guardiola’s defending champions.
    There was plenty to unpack from the weekend’s top-flight action, including a clear trend to Liverpool’s attacking play and another impressive display from a new arrival at Goodison Park.
    Here’s our latest data-driven column analysing talking points from the Premier League

    Liverpool dominate from set pieces
    Liverpool won 3-0 against Crystal Palace on Saturday, briefly taking top spot before Chelsea squeezed ahead the following day on despite having identical records so far this season.
    All three goals at Anfield came from corners, making it five via those means for Jurgen Klopp’s men so far this season. In fact, since the start of last season, they’ve scored 16 Premier League goals from corners — more than any other club.
    What is interesting is how many goals within that tally are scored from “second balls”, rather than the initial first contact being the direct source of the goal — their last one of those being Alisson Becker’s famous headed goal in the dying seconds of the trip to West Bromwich Albion towards the end of last season.
    Whether that second ball is picked up on the edge of the penalty area, as for Naby Keita’s goal on Saturday…
    … and Mohamed Salah’s on the opening weekend against Norwich…
    …or from a knockdown into the six-yard box, like Sadio Mane’s opener in the Palace game…
    …and Fabinho’s finish away at Leeds United, Liverpool have a knack for being quickest to pounce when the ball goes loose.
    The absence of Virgil van Dijk and later Joel Matip last season was obviously crucial defensively, but with the centre-back pair being so aerially dominant in both penalty areas there was also less of an aerial threat from Liverpool at their own set pieces.
    This season, they look to be back to their sharpest, with Matip regularly causing chaos in the opposition penalty area and Van Dijk already involved in two knockdowns that have led to Liverpool goals.
    Clubs are increasingly understanding the value set pieces can offer, but Liverpool have long been advocates of finding an edge where they can. Assistant coaches Peter Krawietz and Pep Lijnders regularly work on set-piece routines on the training pitch based on the upcoming opponent’s weaknesses, and Liverpool have retained the services of Danish throw-in coach Thomas Gronnemark to assist them with their productivity from the sidelines.
    This is a note to other teams in the Premier League — keep switched on against Liverpool from corners.

    Gray a bright spark for Everton
    The main headlines went to Aston Villa in Saturday’s evening kick-off, as they beat Everton 3-0 in a game that was perhaps less one-sided than the scoreline suggested.
    One of the few bright sparks for the visitors on the day was the performance of Demarai Gray, who has impressed since arriving at Goodison Park from Bayer Leverkusen this summer. The 25-year-old has already shown his attacking intent, with three goals in the first five league games. Meanwhile, his versatility — being able to play left midfield, left-wing, central attacking midfield and as a second striker — has been effective as new manager Rafa Benitez looks to find his best formation.
    As you can see above, Gray has found himself in many dangerous areas where he can make something happen within the attacking third. Granted, we are just five games in, but no Everton player has more shots (10), open-play chances created (six), touches in the opposition box (16), or attempted more take-ons (16).
    Of course, Gray’s highly ranked numbers are influenced to some degree by the absence of some of Everton’s key attacking players for the Villa game, with Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison both missing through injury.
    Nevertheless, Gray has shown himself to be capable of carrying some of the attacking burden alongside fellow summer signing Andros Townsend. Landing the two of them for a combined fee of £1.7 million in today’s market is quite astonishing, and Benitez will be counting on them to continue their strong starts.
    We will always sound the “small sample” klaxon when evaluating players at this stage of the season, but the early signs certainly look good for Gray.

    Chelsea have diversified their goalscorers
    Chelsea’s win at Tottenham was the third of the weekend’s 10 games to end with a 3-0 scoreline.
    Thomas Tuchel’s side were comfortable winners at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in the final fixture of the weekend. Their three goals came from three different goalscorers as Thiago Silva, N’Golo Kante and Antonio Rudiger each grabbed their first of the season.
    That brings Chelsea’s tally of different goalscorers five games into the new season to 10 — more than any other team.
    It is not a surprising statement to make, but the depth of Chelsea’s squad is quite staggering.
    Tuchel was able to send Kante on from the bench for the second half against Spurs to shore up the midfield, but that he also had Timo Werner, Ben Chilwell, Reece James, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Saul Niguez and Hakim Ziyech at his disposal on Sunday afternoon is remarkable.
    The fact that the goals are coming from all over the squad can only be a good thing for Chelsea. Of course, they have brought in Romelu Lukaku, who has serious goalscoring pedigree of his own, but when he didn’t manage to score on Sunday, three of his colleagues stepped up.
    Their scorers so far this season are Lukaku with three, then Marcos Alonso, Kante, Antonio Rudiger, Thiago Silva, Kai Havertz, Mateo Kovacic, Christian Pulisic, James, Trevoh Chalobah on one each.
    This will be particularly pleasing for Tuchel, after Chelsea underperformed against their non-penalty expected goals more than anyone else last season in the months after he arrived — scoring 9.3 goals fewer than they should have, based on the quality of chances they found themselves with. As things stand, Chelsea have no such issue this time around and look like strong title contenders with real momentum in the early weeks of the season.
    A quick note on those at the other end of the goalscoring charts.
    It goes without saying that Norwich City need to diversify where their goals come from. Not only have they been struggling to score full stop, but Teemu Pukki remains the main (only) man to find the back of the net for Daniel Farke’s side over the first five matches.
    Meanwhile, Wolves’ underperformance looks unlikely to continue in the long term but they will be wary that only new-signing Hwang Hee-chan has scored as Raul Jimenez looks to rediscover his goalscoring touch after missing the final six months of last season.
    If your main striker is struggling, it’s important to have goals coming from elsewhere in the team.
    At present, Chelsea seem to have goals coming from all angles.
  11. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    The rise of Kaide Gordon: “He was seven and unplayable, people were like ‘who on earth is this kid?’”
    By Caoimhe O'Neill and James Pearce Sept 21, 2021[​IMG] 36 [​IMG]
    Kaide Gordon has been at Liverpool since February. The teenage winger, who will turn 17 in October, arrived from Derby County labelled as “the best 16-year-old in the country”.
    Seven months on and Gordon has impressed for the club at both under-18s and under-23s level. In the summer he joined the first-team squad for their month-long pre-season training camp in Austria and France.
    Now he is on the cusp of making his senior debut against Norwich in the Carabao Cup at Carrow Road on Tuesday night.
    “Kaide is like my best friend so to see him do it — I don’t think I can even put it into words,” his big brother Kellan tells The Athletic. “It will be such a big thing for him to achieve that, to actually play for Liverpool at 16.
    “It will be unbelievable,” the Mansfield Town defender says. “He has been eager to do it and the whole family will be buzzing for him if he does.”
    After he finishes training with his League Two team, the right-back will, accompanied by their mum Joanne, head directly for Norwich.

    Kellan Gordon, the Mansfield Town defender, always knew his brother was a special player (Photo: James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images)
    “If he plays, our mum will sob,” the 23-year-old, who is the eldest of Joanne’s five children, admits. “She will cry her eyes out, I know she will. She cried when I made my debut so she will definitely be crying when Kaide makes his, 100 per cent.”
    Just like his brother Kellan before him, Kaide rose through the ranks at Derby and made his debut for the first team in December 2020. All at Derby, including manager Wayne Rooney, had hoped a taste of first-team action would encourage Gordon to commit his long-term future to the club. But by then Liverpool were already aware of his immense talent and planning to make their move. The club’s head of senior academy recruitment Matt Newberry was the driving force.
    Massively impressed by what he had seen, Newberry sent a summary video to senior football recruitment figures. Then sporting director Michael Edwards and his assistant Julian Ward took over. They had needed little convincing that Gordon was a player Liverpool should be pursuing.
    “Derby County were excellent during the process. Protecting their own interests but acknowledging keeping hold of the player was difficult and a tribunal for them would be no good,” one senior Liverpool source tells The Athletic.
    When Derby gave Liverpool permission to speak to Gordon and his family, Edwards and Ward visited them and spoke about the pathway they saw for him at the AXA Training Centre. The rise of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Curtis Jones provides compelling evidence about the commitment to youth development.
    Manchester United were the main rivals for his signature but Gordon’s heart was set on Anfield. Liverpool were surprised there wasn’t greater competition for him. They negotiated an initial fee of £1.1 million with Derby, potentially rising to £3.4 million with add-ons.
    There is a family photograph that was taken on the day Kaide signed for Liverpool. Smiling alongside him are his three brothers — Kellan, Keldon, and Chase — little sister and mum.
    “We have the picture in my mum’s house,” Kellan says. “We are a close-knit family. Everybody goes to everybody’s games. We are all very, very close. I speak to Kaide every single day without fail. He tells me everything that is going on. We are joined at the hip when he’s home. Everyone always says: if you see him, you will see me.”
    Kellan goes on to list his brother’s best qualities. How he can shoot, pass and dribble.
    “I have watched him closely from the sidelines. You would hate to play against him,” he says. “He is the type of player who can get into your head. He is a very chirpy lad. He’s cheeky and when he’s on the pitch he tries to take people on and nutmeg them. That gives you the perfect impression of what he is like off the pitch too.”
    Kaide is a tricky winger with a vicious left foot but it was in goal where he first started out.
    “We used to have a big garden when we were younger and had a full-size goal in the back,” Kellan adds. “My first memory of Kaide playing football is when me and my brother used to stick Kaide in goal and just smash balls at him all day. He had no choice but to play. You either played or you weren’t involved. We were always playing football. Even if it was raining we were outside playing.”

    Kaide Gordon has been training with Liverpool’s first team (Photo: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
    Kaide eventually outgrew his cannon-fodder role in goal and went to play outfield for a local boy’s team in his native Burton upon Trent as well as joining Derby’s pre-academy group at the age of five.
    “He had a few teams and there was one called St George’s and that’s when I knew,” continues Kellan. “He was scoring 12 goals a game and it wasn’t really fair. You could just see he was special. He was always ahead of every other kid when he was younger. He used to take the mick out of people to be honest. He must have been about six or seven and he was unplayable. People were like, ‘Who on earth is this kid?’.
    “Even when I was still at Derby his name started to get mentioned and I would always tell my team-mates, ‘I have been telling you lot for a long time, trust me, watch out for him, he’s going to be unbelievable’. People are now saying to me ‘Kell, you were right’. I could just see something in him. Something different. If he weren’t my brother I would have still said that he was and is incredible.”
    The elder Gordon, though, is the first to deliver a stern bit of advice to his younger sibling.
    “I am probably the strictest person with him because he is still young and has got a lot of work to do. I don’t tell him how good he is,” Kellan says. “I only tell other people how good he is. I just try to tell him he needs to do better. He knows what I think of his talent but he also knows that I will be the first person getting on his back at the same time.”
    Kellan’s message ahead of his younger brother’s possible debut for Liverpool will be stern but simple. “I will be telling him to make sure he goes to sleep early and to look after himself before the game.
    “I am in football so I really understand the magnitude of what he has already achieved and might be about to achieve. But he doesn’t take anything too seriously. Even when you hear Liverpool are coming in for you, even me I would have been like, ‘Oh, Jesus Christ’. But he is just like, ‘Yeah, yeah’. He doesn’t overthink things, he just plays football because he enjoys it. He could be playing for anybody and he would play exactly the same.”
    On the same night Kaide will likely be travelling to Norwich in the company of the first-team, it is by chance his former academy side at Derby will be heading to Kirkby to take on Liverpool’s under-18s. Academy director at Derby, Darren Wassall, says the coaches at the club took huge pride in having helped develop Gordon. “We knew from what we had seen over the years Liverpool were getting an absolute bargain for what they paid,” he says. “We knew that if he continued in how he progressed here he was going to be an unbelievable asset for Liverpool.
    “We hope that he is playing for Liverpool’s first team on Tuesday so that he is one less player (for our under-18s) to worry about!”
    Kaide scored six goals and provided three assists in eight games for Liverpool Under-18s in the second half of last season before being promoted to the under-23s. He couldn’t feature in the club’s march to the FA Youth Cup final due to being cup-tied.
    Pre-season gave him the opportunity to catch Jurgen Klopp’s eye and he enhanced his reputation with staff and senior players alike. At his best cutting in off the right flank on to his left foot, he lit up a number of the friendlies. It was telling that when a group of youngsters returned to Merseyside from Austria as the squad was reduced before moving on to France, Klopp retained Gordon for that final leg of the trip.
    Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson have both taken the teenager under their wing, providing advice about how to perform to the maximum on the field and how to live his life off it. “Kaide has so much potential it’s frightening, really,” Alexander-Arnold says. “I’ve wanted to be with him like Hendo was with me — a mentor.”
    Kaide is also close to fellow teenager Harvey Elliott, whose own thrilling progress was recently halted by a serious ankle injury. When Liverpool sold Xherdan Shaqiri to Lyon, Gordon’s rise was an important factor in the decision not to sign a replacement.
    Before the first team started pre-season in early July, assistant boss Pep Lijnders went to watch the under-23s train at Kirkby to run the rule over who should be training with the seniors. It was Gordon who stood out.
    “I saw one player who had fire in each moment that he touched the ball,” Lijnders recalls.
    “He went past players like they were not standing there. I called Jurgen immediately and was like: ‘Wow, we have a new player here’.
    “We take all these young players to pre-season and when do you know you have a good player around you? It is when the senior players start taking care of this young player.
    “When you see James Milner speaking with Kaide, when you see Trent becoming like a proper mentor to him, when you see that they invite him to sit at the table… All our boys invited him into the group and that helped him adapt to our team and our style.
    “He has a goal in him and he has this natural ability to be in the box between the goalposts to score even when a cross comes from the opposite side — not many talents have that.
    “They maybe have dribbling skills but they don’t have that desire to shoot, to come in the box, to score.”
    The bar has arguably never been set higher for youngsters trying to make the grade at Liverpool. They are competing for game time with an array of world-class talent. There are plenty of pitfalls and also the external pressures — social media is just one — to contend with.
    Vitor Matos, the club’s elite development coach, who joined Liverpool from Porto two years ago, has been a key figure in helping Kaide handle the step up and flourish in such elite company on the training field.
    “Vitor really takes care of the young boys,” Lijnders adds. “He really gives feedback and really wants them to succeed.
    “The worst thing you can do is to bring a talent in too early, for example. I see players coming through now who are so responsible. They know the world around them is a crazy place, especially on the internet. A strong family environment helps.
    “It is really important young players gain the experience they need. Is it harder to come into a good team for a younger player? I don’t think so. I think it’s harder to come into a bad team.
    “It’s harder to come into a team which doesn’t play fluid football or a team whose ideas are not that clear, who have a manager who is shouting like a lunatic or all these things.
    “We put our identity and our coaching style in place the moment Jurgen came. That’s six years of the same ideas, the same pathways, the same trust in young players. That is something the club can build on.”
    Kaide Gordon may not have come through the ranks at Kirkby but he will become the latest youngster to benefit from Klopp’s commitment to youth.
    “Obviously it is like ‘Woah, that’s Jurgen Klopp talking about my brother’. That’s unbelievable,” Kellan adds.
    “Kaide says when he is around the squad how good everyone is with him. He is a likable and lovable kid. I can see why they have all taken to him well.
    “It is mad though — these are all world-class players, superstars. Our family members do (get starstruck) because they don’t understand it all. They’ll be like, ‘Kaide is messaging Trent’ or something like that. I am like, ‘Yeah, that’s his team-mate, it is like anyone just speaking to their colleague.
    “How far do I think he can go? To the top. 100 per cent.”
    What if he marks his debut with a goal at Carrow Road?
    Gordon audibly gasps at the thought. “I don’t even know what I would do,” he says imagining the moment. “I think I would cry. If he scored, that would be mad. I reckon that would break me.”
    the count and King Binny like this.
  12. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    Minamino display shows why Liverpool were not prepared to give up on him this summer
    By James Pearce Sept 22, 2021[​IMG] 50 [​IMG]
    Spotting Takumi Minamino standing on the edge of the podium, Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson encouraged him to step into the centre to play a full part in the Premier League trophy lift celebrations at Anfield.
    The Japan international had initially kept his distance, feeling that he didn’t belong in the thick of the jubilant scenes that accompanied the end of the club’s 30-year wait for the top-flight title.
    Minamino has spent a lot of his Liverpool career on the fringes since they triggered his £7.25 million buyout clause to sign him from Salzburg in January 2020.
    There were just two league starts following his arrival midway through the glorious 2019-20 season. Last term it was a similar story as he found himself a long way down the pecking order. He was loaned out to Southampton for the second half of the campaign after Jurgen Klopp opted to retain Divock Origi as attacking cover instead.
    But it was telling that senior Anfield sources always insisted that Minamino, who had previously attracted interest from Borussia Monchengladbach and AC Milan, still had a future at Liverpool. They weren’t prepared to give up on a player they had tracked since he was crowned J-League Rookie of the Year back in 2013.
    “He’s a very natural, intelligent mover. He has good timing to move in behind, good combination play when players are close to him,” explained assistant boss Pep Lijnders.
    “He only can become better. That’s what we like. That’s why we bought him because we saw the potential not the end product.”
    Minamino was never available for transfer this summer because Jurgen Klopp believed he would return to Merseyside and belatedly prove his worth. Klopp felt he was initially dealt a cruel hand as the global pandemic struck while he was adjusting to a new country, language and playing style. Klopp was convinced he would benefit greatly from a full pre-season this time around.
    An unused substitute in recent weeks and having overcome a muscle injury sustained on international duty, Minamino finally took centre stage for Wednesday’s Carabao Cup victory over Norwich City. He continued an invaluable recent trend as he stepped off Liverpool’s bench and grasped the opportunity given to him with both hands.
    He opened the scoring with a clinical finish after Divock Origi had nodded down Kostas Tsimikas’ corner early on and later killed off the tie by instinctively poking the ball beyond Angus Gunn. Playing on the left side of Klopp’s frontline in the first half, he showcased his versatility by dropping into midfield after the break.
    “Taki is a top player,” stand-in captain Joe Gomez tells The Athletic. “He’s not always out there, he’s not always getting the headlines, but he applies himself every day in training and quietly goes about his business. He’s really grown in stature. Look at how smart the finishing was for his two goals. He took them so well. He’s a poacher.
    “It wasn’t an easy time for a player to join with the lockdowns and the games being played behind closed doors. It’s completely different now having the fans back. It will feel like being part of a new club again for Taki.
    “I think given time he will keep showing what he’s capable of. It’s hard to come in without much rhythm and contribute the way he did so hats off to him. He had waited for this chance.”
    Once again Klopp’s rotation policy paid off on a night packed full of positives. In seven games in all competitions so far this season he has made 26 changes to his line-ups — yielding six wins and a draw with European champions Chelsea.
    Teenage debutants Kaide Gordon, Conor Bradley and Tyler Morton all caught the eye against Norwich — their technical ability, composure and mentality testament to the outstanding work of academy director Alex Inglethorpe and his staff.
    Curtis Jones, making his 50th appearance for the club, excelled in midfield, while goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher showed why he’s now Alisson’s deputy with a commanding display which included keeping out Christos Tzolis’ penalty. Tsimikas, heavily involved in two of Liverpool’s goals, continues to cement his bond with supporters.

    But it was the output up front which felt the most significant. When the transfer window shut without any late drama from Liverpool, serious questions were asked about the calibre of the back-up options for Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota, especially given the expected loss of Salah and Mane to the Africa Cup of Nations for a month in January.
    However, over the past week, Origi and Minamino have both come to life and provided timely reminders of their undoubted quality.
    Origi continued where he left off in the Champions League thriller against AC Milan. The Belgian frontman appears to have got his mojo back after a wretched downturn in form. He nodded home Liverpool’s second from Tsimikas’ cross, his first goal since the 7-2 rout of Lincoln City a year ago. Origi has some affinity with this competition having found the net 10 times in 14 games.
    Of course, a sense of perspective is important. Lowly Norwich, who also made nine changes themselves, are in a mess and look devoid of belief. Tougher assignments for Origi and Minamino lie ahead, but credit is due nevertheless.
    “Taki is in a really good moment,” says Klopp. “He deserved those goals. The first one, really good awareness, quick in mind, finished the situation off. The second one, the acceleration in the box, in a small space, was really good.
    “I know he didn’t play too much, but in the wrong moment he was injured, coming back and stuff like this. It’s sometimes not so easy, but he is a top character and he enjoyed the game. That was important for him and for us. Nobody needs to worry, Taki will be fine.”
    “Look at what we have and tell me it can’t compete for everything,” Klopp wrote in his programme notes when referring to squad depth last weekend.
    So far that bullish statement has been backed up by results, although Naby Keita was taken off as a precaution due to pain in his foot. Following the loss of fellow midfielders Harvey Elliott and Thiago to injury, they can’t afford another setback in that department.
    Liverpool’s recent record in the domestic cups has been dire. This season marks a decade since they lifted the League Cup for an eighth time and you have to go back to 2006 for the last time they won the FA Cup. Priorities have certainly lay elsewhere during Klopp’s reign.
    They haven’t been helped by drawing Premier League opposition in 13 of their last 17 domestic cup assignments.
    “We’ve had some tough draws in recent years that have led to some early exits,” adds Gomez. “But with the squad depth that exists now I don’t see any reason why we can’t go a long way in this competition this season.
    “Last season provided a real insight into how difficult it can be when you don’t have that rotation available. The gaffer has reiterated to us that we all need to be ready to play our part. It’s a squad game and everyone is important.
    “There’s a really good mindset in the camp. There is no sulking, no stressing if you don’t get picked. The only detriment is to yourself if you’re not ready when your chance comes along. People like Taki have shown the way. It’s a really healthy environment and that’s what we need to compete on all fronts.”
  13. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    De La Salle, Wayne Rooney’s old school, being marked for closure is a blow to the future footballers of Merseyside
    By Simon Hughes Sept 24, 2021[​IMG] 40 [​IMG]
    If I stop and really consider the moment the priorities in my life changed before becoming a husband and then a father, I arrive at a Saturday morning in the autumn of 1999.
    I am from Crosby, a fairly wealthy suburb in the north end of Liverpool, and my school team had a game in the sink estates of Croxteth, to the east.
    Quietly, I had started writing, and the local newspaper asked me to cover a non-League fixture across the country in Lincolnshire.
    This meant setting off on a three-hour journey around the time my school, Sacred Heart, was due to be playing against De La Salle.
    Sacred Heart had always produced good football teams and my year reached the Merseyside Cup final on a couple of occasions.
    Quite a lot of the boys were signed up to professional clubs and this meant I was usually on the bench when it mattered. On this particular Saturday, however, I was due to start because of the unavailability of those with commitments at Liverpool, Everton, Tranmere Rovers and clubs further afield.
    To be honest, I didn’t have the guts to tell the teacher I wasn’t going to be involved either.
    I weighed up my options and concluded that I was never going to become a footballer but there was a small chance I might become a reporter.
    I let it be known, through a mate, I wasn’t going to be in Croxteth, instead deciding to travel all the way to a very damp Lincolnshire and with that, make my debut in the Liverpool Pink Echo.
    I never played for the school again, which is fair enough — the teacher must have thought I’d let him down and I wasn’t one of his best players anyway.
    I felt worse, though, about the lads who went to Croxteth and, with a threadbare team, lost heavily. As far as I can remember, we’d never been beaten by more than one or two goals, but this was a right old humping — maybe seven- or eight-nil. Admittedly, the scoreline could have been worse if I’d been playing.
    The following Monday, everyone was talking about the brilliance of De La Salle, particularly their centre-forward, who had scored several times and was contracted to a professional club. For some reason, they had allowed him to play that day. Everton had allowed Wayne Rooney to play as well, only he was on the next pitch, giving the run-around to a Sacred Heart team from an age group two years junior to mine.
    Everyone knows what happened next to him, though he is not the only footballer to emerge from De La Salle.
    Before Rooney, there was Francis Jeffers, another kid who made headlines in the blue of Everton as a teenager.
    Before him, there was a future Everton captain, the formidable Mick Lyons.
    Paul Jewell was at Liverpool during the club’s most successful era, and John McGreal played hundreds of times for Tranmere.
    Then there are those whose futures lay in other fields. Brian Reade and Phil McNulty are journalists I respect enormously. David Morrissey and Mark McGann became known for their acting brilliance. There is the politician, Terry Fields —a defender of Liverpool in the 1980s when the city was fighting for its survival.

    If you are from Liverpool you have probably heard of De La Salle, whether or not you attended the school or had competed against one of its football teams since it was founded 96 years ago. The school’s reputation spreads across the north west of England because of its contribution towards creative sectors.

    Earlier this summer, however, it was earmarked for closure by a regional schools’ commissioner because successive Ofsted reports showed failings.
    Currently, it is awaiting a decision after governors, staff, MPs, councillors and campaigners tried to fight off that threat, partly by reminding of the important role it has played within Croxteth as well as communities beyond.
    There are many reasons it has found itself in this position but locally, it is felt that one moment changed everything.
    Croxteth is also associated with the death of Rhys Jones, an 11-year-old who was shot by a 16-year-old, Sean Mercer, in August 2007 in the car park of the Fir Tree pub. Jones was on his way home from football training while Mercer was trying to attack a member of a rival gang to his associated with the nearest estate in Norris Green.
    The murder had a long-term impact on De La Salle, which is located on the road that separates the two areas.
    Over the next decade, pupil numbers fell as parents sent their children to schools in other parts of Liverpool in an attempt to avoid conflict. Although the mood has calmed, successive headmasters have been unable to arrest a corkscrew of decline in what was already one of the most economically deprived parts of the city.

    Despite its academic problems, De La Salle has continued to deliver talented footballers and decent football teams throughout this period. None have made it anywhere near as far as Rooney but De La Salle’s players still furnish the region’s lower-league, non-League and especially rich amateur scenes.

    This matters, of course, because it is the thousands of players operating across these levels that sew the fabric of the English game as we understand it.
    Meanwhile, the existence of one less established football school leads to questions about what its boys will do without a platform to express themselves. On a walk around the surrounding streets on Wednesday morning, there was understandable concern about where all of this might lead.

    When it was put to me that the broken state of football and the society around it is most easily reflected through Croxteth’s most famous footballer, I could not argue against it.
    Rooney, the manager, currently leads Derby County, a Championship club with a very uncertain future because of the money it has lost in an attempt to reach the supposed promised land. On Thursday, Rooney called the club’s owner Mel Morris “disrespectful” for not having the courtesy to tell him Derby were entering administration before the news broke last weekend.
    Elsewhere, the landscape above the Championship has been defined by the success of one of Rooney’s former employers and at the same time, Manchester United can afford to keep spending while being hundreds of millions of pounds in debt.
    Back in Croxteth, meanwhile, it feels as if Rooney’s old school is just about receiving end of life care.
  14. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    Is it true that Jurgen Klopp is to blame for Man United’s lack of penalties?
    By Jacob Whitehead Sept 24, 2021[​IMG] 143 [​IMG]
    Editor’s note: Before anyone takes umbrage, the author is neither a Manchester United fan nor a Liverpool fan. This has been approached from an entirely neutral perspective.

    Almost 10 per cent of penalties in the 2020-21 Premier League were awarded to Manchester United, but that hasn’t stopped Ole Gunnar Solskjaer from bemoaning how officials have treated his side.
    It’s quite the about-turn after claiming — “We can’t dwell on that too much” — when Jesse Lingard’s penalty appeal was rejected on Wednesday night.
    Speaking before his team host Villa, Solskjaer said: “We have to hope we get what we deserve. We should have had three penalties in the last two games.
    “Last season there was a certain manager worried about us getting penalties. After that, it seems the decisions have been more difficult to give. I have seen a big, big difference since then. We have to leave it up to the refs and hopefully they’ll make the right calls very soon.”
    Although he didn’t refer to Jurgen Klopp by name, the insinuation is pretty clear.
    In January, the Liverpool manager said: “I hear now that Manchester United had more penalties in two years than I had in five and a half years. I’ve no idea if that’s my fault, or how that can happen.”
    For context, the Liverpool manager’s comments certainly didn’t seem to be heeded by officials last season — his side were only awarded one penalty to United’s five between his comments on January 4 to the end of last season.
    United won 11 spot kicks in the 2020-21 Premier League, the second-most in the league, while only Manchester City have been awarded more penalties since Klopp’s press conference on January 4. Since Klopp’s arrival on Merseyside, United have averaged two extra penalties per season.
    However, Klopp’s comments are not the only variable at play.
    An added nuance is the new directive that has been passed down for the 2020-21 season by the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL, the board responsible for refereeing in English football), which seeks to cut out “soft” penalties and free kicks.
    According to refereeing chief Mike Riley, “Contact on its own is only part of what the referee should look for — consider consequence and the motivation of the player as well. Let’s create a free-flowing game, where the threshold is slightly higher than it was last season.”
    Riley outlined the new three-step process for referees, composed of:
    • The referee looking for contact and establishing clear contact
    • Asking whether that contact had the consequence seen on the pitch
    • Seeing whether the attacker has used contact to try and win a foul
    It’s possible that the drop in penalties that aggrieved Solskjaer is a natural byproduct of the higher threshold, rather than Klopp’s comments.
    The Athletic has gone through the five penalties awarded to United last season after Klopp’s comments, as well as looking at the three spot kicks that Solskjaer claims his side were denied in their past two games.
    Should they have been given?

    1. February 2, Anthony Martial vs Southampton. Penalty given.
    Near the end of United’s 9-0 mauling of Southampton came a moment of contention. It ended with Southampton’s Jan Bednarek being escorted from the pitch as he shouted: “It’s not a foul! Martial said it’s not a foul!”
    Martial had nipped in front of Bednarek, who tried to avoid clipping the Frenchman’s ankles to no avail. Although the attacker already looked to be going down, Mike Dean gave a penalty before a VAR check then convinced the referee to send off Bednarek for failing to attempt to play the ball.
    After the game, Solskjaer admitted: “Bednarek definitely should not have been sent off.”
    Verdict: A correct penalty decision, but an incorrect red card. That said, this penalty might not be given in the 2021-22 season under the new directives, with Martial already going to ground.

    2. February 21, Marcus Rashford vs Newcastle. Penalty given.
    Joe Willock slides in from range and traps Rashford’s toe under his studs. The United attacker then pirouettes to the ground dramatically. Although the minimal level of contact was questioned by TV commentary at the time, there were no complaints from Willock or his Newcastle team-mates.
    Verdict: Under the then-rules, this was a correct decision. However, this is another penalty that might not be given this year. Rashford falls dramatically, meaning that the consequence seen on the pitch does not match the level of contact.

    3. March 7, Anthony Martial vs Manchester City. Penalty given.
    Gabriel Jesus clumsily tangles with Martial from behind, first stepping on his toe, then kicking his leg.
    Verdict: Stonewall penalty. Move on.

    4. May 9, Paul Pogba vs Aston Villa. Penalty given.
    Pogba loses the ball in the box but Douglas Luiz is too eager to retain possession. He barges in from behind with a fair degree of force, and Pogba goes down.
    Verdict: Luiz never gets near the ball. Penalty.

    5. May 23, Donny van de Beek vs Wolves. Penalty given.
    The first penalty awarded by VAR after Klopp’s comments. It’s a silly tackle from Roman Saiss, who lunges at Van de Beek as the Dutchman skips away from goal. There’s not much contact, but it is enough to cause a trip.
    Verdict: A good call from VAR.

    6. September 19, Cristiano Ronaldo vs West Ham. No penalty.
    Ronaldo cuts inside from the left and jabs the ball to Vladimir Coufal’s outside. The Czech defender overstretches, and Ronaldo goes over.
    Now, this is a complex one. Martin Atkinson presumably didn’t give the penalty because he believed Ronaldo initiated the contact, swerving into Coufal’s extended leg. However, this is the wrong interpretation when you consider Ronaldo’s natural running line after cutting inside, which forces him goalside of the ball.
    Verdict: After the match, PGMOL released a statement saying that United should have been awarded a penalty. However, it’s also worth noting that they also censured Atkinson’s decision not to penalise Aaron Wan-Bissaka for a foul on Tomas Soucek in the box.

    7. September 19, Cristiano Ronaldo v West Ham. No penalty.
    Later in the second half, Kurt Zouma is caught flat-footed against the onrushing Ronaldo. He makes a desperate attempt at a tackle and clatters Ronaldo. It looks like a penalty.
    However, this is actually comparable to penalties one and two. Although this would have been a penalty last season, Ronaldo drags his rear boot before any contact from Zouma. He’s already going down.
    Verdict: In the language of the new directives, Ronaldo’s actions are not a consequence of the contact. Therefore, this should not be a penalty. An excellent decision considering the speed at which it happened in real-time.

    8. September 22, Jesse Lingard vs West Ham (Carabao Cup). No penalty.
    Mark Noble drags down Jesse Lingard. It starts outside the box but continues into it, which might have clouded Jonathan Moss’s decision.
    Verdict: Should have been a penalty.

    Solskjaer is correct in one regard — his side should have been awarded at least two more penalties this season.
    However, it’s hard to label Klopp as the man holding the smoking gun.
    Although United have been on the wrong end of decisions, other teams can rightfully claim the same. Klopp’s comments can only ever be part of the answer.
    After all, the new directives were designed to stop soft penalties from being awarded. It is entirely normal that Solskjaer has indeed noticed fewer penalties being handed out since January. Ronaldo’s second penalty claim against West Ham illustrates this perfectly.
    Although Klopp’s barbs may have hurt Solskjaer, other factors are causing the ongoing sting.
  15. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    Curtis Jones has a ‘genius mentality’ but consistency will be key to his Liverpool future
    By Caoimhe O'Neill 4h ago[​IMG] 7 [​IMG]
    Curtis Jones is still eligible to play for Liverpool Under-23s but instead of taking part in their 4-3 away defeat by Chelsea on Friday night, he started on the left of midfield alongside Fabinho and Jordan Henderson for the first team’s Premier League trip to Brentford on Saturday.
    The 20-year-old rounded off a 68-minute cameo with a ruthless, if deflected, right-foot strike from outside the box to put Liverpool into a 3-2 lead.
    Jones slid on his knees in celebration towards the away fans, his right hand beating against the liver bird crest. But with Roberto Firmino already waiting on the touchline to come on for him, the England Under-21 international made his way onto the bench. He applauded back across towards the Liverpool fans, who sang his name on repeat.
    It was a goal deserving of being a match-winner but was ultimately cancelled out by Yoane Wissa’s 82nd-minute equaliser for Brentford on a raucous and uncontrollable night.
    “Curtis is a top player,” Jurgen Klopp said after the 3-3 draw. “Still a talent but a really good package.
    “I thought he played a really good game. He won, in the first half, the best balls for us. He was really good in these situations. On top of that, he was involved in all football situations. He dropped in the right spaces, was brave in between the lines, so many good things. But that’s football, and he’s still young.

    Jones savours his third Premier League goal for Liverpool (Photo: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
    “His consistency is maybe sometimes a little bit the issue, but he’s in a really good moment. He’s now old enough to keep that moment going.”
    None of this will be news to Jones. He and the manager enjoy a regular dialogue and, from these ongoing chats, Jones knows what Klopp expects from him.
    Many fans had been wondering why Jones hadn’t quite had the start to this campaign he promised when he swaggered his way through pre-season.
    Against Osasuna on August 9, however, he suffered a concussion. He had battled hard in midfield, his display fuelled by Anfield being close to capacity for the first time since March 2020. He looked desperate to prove to the fans he belonged in the shirt. But the head injury was a major setback to what had been a fruitful pre-season working his way back up the ladder since his first-team appearances somewhat dried up in March.
    He was ruled out of the opener against Norwich — a game in which many had tipped him to start. Harvey Elliott then stole a march on Jones and picked up four Premier League appearances, including three starts after his late cameo against Norwich.
    Those who know Jones best say he has a hugely competitive nature, a side he has shown to battle his way back into Klopp’s thinking. He was rewarded with 20 minutes against AC Milan in the Champions League group stage opener.
    Jones dropped in on the left of midfield and again showed his talent. This was followed by 15 minutes off the bench against Crystal Palace before his first starts of the season in the Carabao Cup and Premier League.
    At Carrow Road on Tuesday in Liverpool’s 3-0 win over Norwich, he started in defensive midfield. It was an unfamiliar position for him but Jones slotted into it with little effort, even if he has rarely played as a No 6 before.
    Recent injuries to Elliott, Thiago Alcantara and Naby Keita have meant Jones’ importance to Liverpool has tripled. And he seems to be thriving off it. The draw against Brentford was his 51st appearance for his boyhood club.
    “Curtis is a full member of the first team,” said Liverpool’s assistant manager Pep Lijnders last week, adding that a footballer who already has Club World Cup and Premier League winners’ medals to his name is “not a young player anymore”.
    Those close to Jones have marvelled at what they call his “genius mentality”. The way Jones moves about the pitch and isn’t afraid to pick up the ball under pressure and hold off players like Ivan Toney, as he did against Brentford, shows his composure.
    During the finishing drill in the pre-match warm-up on Saturday, Jones showed his range as he lined up shots on his left and then his right. He looked calm as he joked around with Andreas Kornmayer, Liverpool’s head of fitness. Diogo Jota and Mohamed Salah both took the time to give him some instructions and then during the game, Jones attempted some lofty diagonal passes to Salah, who raised his hand in acknowledgement.

    Jones often surged forward against Brentford (Photo: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
    Henderson was also among those to grab a word with Jones before kick-off.
    The captain, along with James Milner and Virgil van Dijk, has been namechecked by Jones as someone who has looked out for him since he made his debut in the FA Cup against Wolves in January 2019.
    Jones still turns up to watch academy games where possible. He has been described as a “massive influence” and port of call for other young players coming up to train with the first team such as Jake Cain, Leighton Clarkson and Rhys Williams.
    Steven Gerrard, who was formerly Jones’ Under-18s coach, once noted how he is someone who has “that quality to create something out of nothing”. Jones certainly showed that as he surged forward against Brentford, while there were plenty of other examples of his potential.
    Early in the first half, a misplaced Henderson pass was pounced upon by Toney who looked to counter. Jones won the ball back and launched a counter of his own. And when Salah had an early shot cleared off the line by Kristoffer Ajer, Jones was one of the players involved in the build-up.

    Jones’ touch map shows he was most effective on the left and ‘dropped in the right spaces’ (Graphic: Opta)
    He also did his fair share of running back towards his own goal. There was one moment when he used his pace to drop in at centre-half while Brentford attacked through Bryan Mbeumo.
    There were some poor touches too but he didn’t let it faze him. Jones still craved more time in possession.
    In the first half, he had a shot that pinged off the post. In the second half, he held off Sergi Canos in the passage that eventually led to Salah’s goal.
    After the stadium had emptied, Jones came out to give a pitchside interview to LFCTV. When it concluded he stood on the turf talking his way through the game with a member of club staff. He knows his performances will have to be even better than that if he is to continuously don his No 17 shirt for the senior side. He needs to find the consistency Klopp requests.
    But, as Ljinders says, he is a Liverpool first-team player now and has been for quite some time. The challenge is staying there.
    the count and Squiggles like this.
  16. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    Would the Premier League abroad one day be such a bad thing?
    By Oliver Kay and Joey D'Urso Sept 28, 2021[​IMG] 437 [​IMG]
    The Premier League is looking to grow and, as explained by David Ornstein, that means “meaningful games” overseas. The league has been fast to insist there will be no regular-season matches abroad but is unclear as to what the future will look like. Step one is likely to be a beefed-up pre-season tournament but with that being just the start of “a roadmap” to these “competitive matches”.
    The reaction has been generally dismissive from fans so we thought we’d let two of our writers thrash it out and then you can tell them why they’re wrong.
    Would Premier League games abroad be a good thing or not? Pick your side…

    Don’t dismiss foreign fans, they care too

    Joey D’Urso
    Earlier this year a source close to the Super League proposals used the term “legacy fans” in an unfavourable comparison with “fans of the future” dotted around the globe.
    As a lifetime regular at Villa Park, a few miles from where I was born and raised,  I am a proud legacy fan and was dutifully enraged by that sorry saga. So you might expect me to be fuming about the idea one day of a Premier League fixture on foreign soil. But I’m not. I quite like the idea.
    There is a lot for fans to be angry about at the moment, from the Super League disaster to Champions League reforms that will mean more tedious group games and injuries, and a further devaluation of domestic cups.
    But not everything new is terrible. The Premier League was greeted with fury when it was announced three decades ago and has worked out alright.
    Rather than instinctively opposing the idea, fans should embrace it — but demand conditions, such as subsidised tickets, and every club getting a piece of the pie.
    It is easy to mock foreign fans for watching YouTube highlights and sending tweets rather than going to matches. But reading comments in The Athletic has made me realise the importance of the people who may never have seen their team live but are fans all the same, often providing an interesting alternative view to what you hear in a match-day pub.
    I might show my dedication by boasting about the times I’ve watched my team lose in the Championship or my trip to Stamford Bridge last week. But there are other ways of being a fan, like setting a 6am alarm to watch a game on TV or sustaining interest without constant reminders from friends and family.
    The diehards should be celebrated at every opportunity but not considered representative of fans as a whole at a time when match days are an increasingly small proportion of revenue for Premier League clubs compared to TV and sponsorship deals.
    Yes, money. There’s no pretending it’s not about money. In 2008, the Premier League looked at an extra round of matches abroad at five different venues, with clubs to earn around £5 million per game, roughly the same as a front-of-shirt sponsor for the league’s lowest teams. It would surely be more now.

    The Asia Trophy has attracted a lot of fans (Photo: Victoria Haydn/Manchester City FC via Getty Images)
    Before anyone accuses me of going soft on clubs fans, I speak as someone who has spent a lot of time holding clubs accountable for how they raise cash. I have reported on ethically questionable sponsorship deals, including how the company Socios is attempting to equate “fan engagement” with cryptocurrency trading, the Football Index disaster, and how Premier League clubs facilitate illegal gambling in Asia by lending their brand to dubious offshore sponsors.
    Compared to some of those things, a fixture abroad seems fine.
    If you look at the top of last season’s table Manchester City and Chelsea had oligarch backing, and Liverpool and Manchester United are international commercial behemoths, which means these clubs can pay top wages and recruit the world’s best players. It is getting harder for smaller teams to puncture this elite. Without a coherent plan to reduce wages across the board, smaller clubs need to earn more cash to compete.
    Norwich are unusual as a top-flight club trying to turn a small profit by selling valuable assets and reinvesting prudently. They have zero points from six games so far.
    It’s not just the super clubs pulling away. Brighton have successfully stabilised in the top flight because gambling mogul Tony Bloom has poured in £350 million over the years. Villa are thriving — after being bought by two billionaires, Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens. It is getting increasingly impossible to sustain Premier League success without wealthy backing — so clubs seeking new revenue should not be dismissed out of hand.
    A match abroad is a much better way for a club such as Norwich to make extra cash than an offshore gambling sponsor using pornography in its marketing.
    As well as the revenue from the game itself, Norwich might pick up some new fans (and cash) if American striker Josh Sargent were to score against Manchester United in New York.
    This needn’t be terrible for English fans. It could be a lot of fun. In 2019, a La Liga match in Miami was proposed between Barcelona and Girona. The Spanish federation’s opposition killed the idea, along with a proposed Atletico-Villarreal clash a year later.
    But many fans were supportive, especially when the prospect of free tickets was thrown in as a sweetener. Rather than opposing the idea completely, season ticket holders should use their bargaining power to get a share of the payday, pressuring clubs to subsidise tickets and travel.
    On the subject of travel, a valid criticism is the carbon footprint of a game abroad. It is important to remember, though, that competitive European football entails vastly more flying than one round of fixtures would.
    Clubs could address the issue head-on by combining the proposal with a pledge to stop flying domestically, still a common practice for Premier League clubs. (Landing and take-off are the most carbon-intensive parts of a plane journey, so short trips burn significantly more carbon per kilometre.)
    A game abroad has been tried in other sports. NFL London has gone well. The NBA London game, played between 2011 and 2019, was a huge hit, drawing bumper crowds, and making new fans, with merchandise flying off the shelves. It moved to Paris in 2020 and games have also been played in Mexico City.
    This has not always been a marquee match showcasing the league’s biggest stars. The Orlando Magic, Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks have all benefited from playing abroad, acquiring new fans, some cash, and giving a fun experience to some American fans and players.
    This could be good for Norwich or Watford too.
    For a game abroad to work, officials must approach this issue with great sensitivity.
    Hosting a game in China would be concerning given the terrible human rights record. The Italian Super Cup has been played in Saudi Arabia, with women unable to attend without a male chaperone. Equal access to the game must surely be a red line for any proposal, along with proper consideration for LGBT and BAME travelling fans.
    Proper thought must be given to directing some of the profits towards loyal fans who want to attend, as well as to the integrity of the league. It cannot be the case that smaller clubs regularly play one fewer home fixture, for example.
    As bigwigs are scrambling to rake in cash in a world where COVID-19 has hammered revenues and wage costs are spiralling out of control, there are lots of terrible ideas in football at the moment.
    Sometimes, however, it’s good to pick your battles. This really wouldn’t be that bad. It could be fun.

    It would destroy integrity, other leagues and the planet

    Oliver Kay
    Nothing about football these days is sacred, it seems, as self-serving administrators and money-obsessed club owners engage in a battle to fix what could only ever be broken by their greed.
    But certain principles should be set in stone. The idea of the Premier League — and indeed every domestic league — staying within its borders is one such principle. Not just for tradition’s sake, or even for the sake of preserving the perfect symmetry of a format whereby teams play each other at home and away, but for the future of the game.
    It is no surprise to learn that taking “meaningful matches abroad” is back on the Premier League’s agenda, if indeed it ever went away. In 2008, it was rejected because of a backlash not just from fans or media in this country but because of opposition all over the world. Significantly, that opposition was loudest in some of those countries, such as the United States, Australia, South Korea and Japan, which had been earmarked as potential venues.
    This isn’t just about preserving tradition, or jealously guarding Premier League matches as if they were the Crown Jewels. It is about recognising the dangers of this growing desperation — among the Premier League elite, among the Champions League elite, within UEFA, within FIFA — to achieve world domination. Not just domination of the type they already enjoy, but total domination, as if Europe is attempting to replicate the colonial expansions of the late 19th century.
    “Ah, but think of the fans in those countries!” will come the reply.

    Manchester City’s 5-3 pre-season win over Chelsea in New York in 2013 drew a large crowd (Photo: Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)
    Does anyone seriously think that is what this is about, regardless of what form it comes in? Do they think the Glazers, the Kroenkes, Fenway Sports Group, Roman Abramovich, Sheikh Mansour and the rest — not to mention their kindred spirits in the boardrooms at Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and elsewhere — are interested in the fans? They don’t care about the fans on the club’s doorstep and they don’t care about the fans on the other side of the world. They care about developing their brand in overseas markets, but that really isn’t the same thing.
    Remember when La Liga tried to take Barcelona’s match against Girona abroad three years ago? That was going to be about “promoting football worldwide”, according to La Liga president Javier Tebas, who said, “Fans from all over the world deserve to be able to enjoy the leagues they love wherever they are.” It might even have sounded vaguely sincere had this plan revolved around, for example, Beijing, Tokyo, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, let alone Lagos or Accra… rather than Miami, a city that had largely remained indifferent to football throughout Major League Soccer’s success story.
    Don Garber, the commissioner of MLS, said in 2015 that any plan to take Premier League matches to the United States “really would cross the line of going into a market and potentially threatening the first division”.
    Garber was right. Because what might start as an offshoot tournament or one or two rounds of Premier League matches — such a wonderful gift, just like that beautiful wooden horse that the Greeks sent into Troy — would end up with half the fixtures taking place overseas. La Liga and Serie A, of course, would do the same and before we know it, there would be high-profile European league matches taking place across the United States, China, Japan and elsewhere every weekend. It would eclipse MLS, Liga MX, the Chinese Super League, the J1 League, the K League, the A-League and any of those other leagues that have done so well to grow in an era when so many smaller leagues have found themselves dwarfed by the big European competitions and clubs.
    It cuts both ways as well. It is one thing for the NFL to stage matches at Wembley — something the FA are so keen on that they considered selling their national stadium to Fulham and Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan — but what if, rather than the NFL, it was La Liga? Would Premier League clubs be comfortable with Barcelona and Real Madrid parking their tanks on English football’s lawn (or vice versa) several times a season? If not, why would they imagine overseas clubs and leagues would welcome their presence?
    Can you imagine the carbon footprint? It is barely a week since Tottenham Hotspur played Chelsea in what was billed as the world’s first major net-zero-carbon football match. Daniel Levy spoke about a “ground-breaking initiative that will demonstrate the role our game can play in addressing the urgent issue of climate change”. Even for a chairman who spoke about Tottenham’s traditions of free-flowing football before appointing Jose Mourinho and Nuno Espirito Santo, it might be a bit of a stretch to go from net-zero-carbon football to trying to take Premier League matches abroad.
    There are ways of taking elite-level football abroad while keeping that 133-year-old concept of home-and-away league competition intact. The Italian Super Cup has been played in the United States twice — although these days, organisers Lega Serie A seems to favour China, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Spain’s equivalent has been extended into a four-team tournament, which was played in Saudi Arabia in 2020. We can question the Spanish Football Federation’s motives for choosing Saudi Arabia, but certainly the idea of expanding and exporting the Community Shield — currently a non-event — is worth exploring.
    Oh, but the Community Shield is an FA event, and the FA are beholden to Wembley, so that is a no-go. And the Carabao Cup is an EFL competition. So the Premier League collective find themselves frustrated. But there are alternatives. Rather than letting every club do its own thing when it comes to pre-season tours, the Premier League should take control, creating a two-week competition that is played in cities across the world every summer.
    Make it a big event with big prize money. Extend invitations beyond the Premier League (perhaps to a club from each host city) if you want. It wouldn’t have to impact an already congested fixture list. These clubs are already playing matches abroad throughout July and early August, whether in the International Champions Cup, the (severely underdeveloped) Premier League Asia Trophy or just a series of one-off friendly matches that are devoid of intensity, authenticity and meaning. A proper Premier League pre-season competition, played in a different continent each year, sounds so much more appealing.
    It comes back to that word “meaningful”. Yes, fans all over the world deserve the opportunity to see the biggest teams play in meaningful matches. (If UEFA is prepared to take a Europa League final to Baku, with the challenges that threw up, then why not take those showpiece events to New York, Tokyo, Cape Town and beyond?)
    But domestic league football is domestic league football. The moment it becomes a franchise event, always on tour, with every game available to the highest bidder, is the moment it loses the very meaning that the Premier League elite is so unedifyingly desperate to trade on.
  17. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    Was the Super League illegal? Why UEFA is in court with Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid
    Matt Slater Sept 29, 2021[​IMG] 84 [​IMG]
    Like that spot of toothpaste on your tie, Brexit or arguments about Piers Morgan, the European Super League refuses to disappear, no matter how hard you try to wipe it away, move on or ignore it.
    Just how stubborn the ESL is as an idea has become clear during a week that has seen UEFA bow to pressure from a commercial court in Madrid and drop its disciplinary action against Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid, the three clubs who have refused to beg for forgiveness.
    Uncertain of its legal footing, European football’s governing body decided late on Monday it probably should comply with the court’s ruling, just in case. But on Tuesday morning, it attempted to get back on the front foot by lodging an appeal in Spain and asking for the judge who issued the pro-ESL ruling to be removed while it is heard.
    In the meantime, UEFA has also been forced to accept it cannot collect the €15 million “goodwill contribution” (do not call them fines!) it imposed upon — sorry, agreed with — the nine ESL clubs that did admit the error of their ways, including the six Premier League sides that signed up to the project on April 18, only to back out on April 20.
    Confused? Do not worry, The Athletic has spoken to half a dozen lawyers and they cannot agree on what the ESL holdouts really want or how the European Court of Justice (ECJ) will view this when it looks at the arguments next year.
    They do, however, think the Super League — as a threat, at the very least — will come back in some form, at some point. After all, Barca, Juve and Real are competing in domestic and UEFA competitions this season and they have not made a single goodwill contribution to anyone.
    Without further ado, let us work through the issues so we can decide if it is time to stop worrying about closed petrol stations in the UK and start getting angry about closed leagues again.

    OK, just remind me, what was the ESL?
    According to the launch statements, the plan was to have Europe’s 20 best teams split into two groups of 10, playing home and away in a new midweek competition instead of the Champions League.
    The top three from each group would proceed to the quarter-finals, with teams finishing fourth and fifth going into a play-off to decide the last two quarter-finalists. All of these games would be two-legged ties, played in a four-week period at the end of the season, with a final at a neutral venue.
    Backed by US bank JP Morgan, the competition was meant to realise huge sums of cash for the participants, including an upfront payment to fix pandemic-related losses and fund infrastructure improvements, with the promise of greater solidarity payments to everyone else than UEFA is currently dishing out.
    The clubs said they hoped their project would get regulatory approval from FIFA and UEFA, and they had no intention of pulling out of their domestic leagues, which meant it was not a breakaway league.
  18. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    Part 2

    Super League clubs wanted more big games and a closed shop (Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images)
    I think that is everything… oh, wait, 15 of those 20 teams would be permanent members, who cannot be relegated and would receive a greater share of the profits than the five clubs chosen to make up the numbers each season.
    Unfortunately, they could not persuade Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain to take up their places at the top table, so the league was launched with just 12 founding members: AC Milan, Inter and Juventus from Italy; Atletico Madrid, Barca and Real from Spain; and England’s “big six” of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham.
    I remember now! It all kicked off, right?
    Correct. Leagues, governing bodies, clubs not involved, pundits and, most importantly, fans hated it.
    The reaction was particularly fierce in England, where fans protested at games between Leeds and Liverpool, the first game after the launch, and Chelsea and Brighton 24 hours later, although Chelsea pulled out of the league shortly before kick-off, sparking huge celebrations. By the end of the day, the other five English sides were out, too.
    If this was a market-testing exercise, the English response was emphatic: get stuffed. The Athletic understands the Premier League sides were expecting pushback but the scale of the protests shocked them, and they certainly were not ready for prime minister Boris Johnson wetting his finger, sticking it in the air and saying he would use a “legislative bomb” to stop the Super League.
    They might have thought they could batten down the hatches in Abu Dhabi, Connecticut, Florida or wherever their yachts were moored, but you cannot take on governments.
    Without teams from England, France or Germany, there did not seem much point in carrying on and Milan, Atletico and Inter soon pulled out. Within three weeks, these nine clubs would sign agreements with UEFA not to do it again or face huge financial penalties. In the meantime, they agreed to put more than £13 million in UEFA’s good causes tin, with a further contribution of five per cent of their UEFA earnings to come in the 2023-24 season.
    The English sides would make a similar settlement with the Premier League in May: a slap on the wrist now, a wet fish across the chops if it happens again. To all intents and purposes, this was now an ex-Super League, locked in a box, encased in cement and thrown overboard.
    Why are we still talking about it, then?
    Because Barca, Juve and Real were not in the box.
    As the biggest financial beneficiaries of the original plan, it should not come as a shock that Barca and Real are reluctant to throw in the towel. United in their sense of entitlement, Spain’s big two are upset La Liga is belatedly trying to rein them in a little and they are furious that “state-backed” sides such as Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City can outspend them so easily. Real’s president Florentino Perez was meant to be the ESL’s chairman, too.
    Juve president Andrea Agnelli was lined up to be one of four vice-presidents — alongside Joel Glazer, John W Henry and Stan Kroenke of Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, respectively — but he is arguably the league’s biggest cheerleader. In fact, he was pushing the ESL’s virtues again on Monday in an open letter to Juve fans that was published just before UEFA announced its retreat.
    Agnelli is certainly top of UEFA’s “snake” list, as he had been in charge of the elite clubs’ lobby group, the European Club Association, for years and it had been negotiating what look like very ECA-friendly changes to the Champions League with the governing body — changes that have subsequently been approved.
    For UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin, godfather to one of Agnelli’s children, the Italian’s treachery was personal. Agnelli, on the other hand, must be a disciple of Corleone family consigliere Tom Hagen: it’s not personal, it’s business.

    The loudest opposition came in England (Photo: Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)
    Armed with a pre-emptive injunction against disciplinary action by FIFA or UEFA from judge Manuel Ruiz de Lara of the 17th commercial court in Madrid, Perez’s home patch, the ESL hardliners did not flinch when UEFA started proceedings against them in May.
    The first indication their stance might pay off came when UEFA suspended the disciplinary action in July. By that time, Ruiz de Lara had referred the matter to the European Court of Justice and UEFA could no longer pretend to ignore him.
    If UEFA hoped that would put him in his box for a year or so, it was dead wrong. Last week, he issued another ruling that said UEFA had five working days to comply with his April 20 injunction against any disciplinary bother for the ESL clubs and that meant dropping it completely — not just suspending it and ripping up those settlements with the other nine.
    That brings us up to speed with the latest developments, as UEFA has now begrudgingly complied with his demand while adding it “will continue to do whatever it takes to stop the Super League and any form of breakaway league… this includes the potential restart of legal proceedings”.
    Wait, doesn’t that mean the ESL clubs have probably got away it?
    Yes… well, maybe, although they would say “get away with what?”
    To understand why they believe this, we need to explore the league’s rationale.
    According to them, they wanted to replace the predictability of many Champions League group-stage games with a competition that guaranteed big matches between the best teams on an annual basis. These clubs think it is plain wrong that fans, wherever they may be, should have to wait years for a Real Madrid versus Manchester United match-up when they really want it every season. By doing this, they would make more money for everyone and safeguard the next generation of football fans.
    They were also tired of UEFA not involving them in key commercial decisions. After all, they are shareholders in their domestic leagues — why can’t they be shareholders in the best pan-European competition, too?
    And they were thoroughly cheesed off with what they regard as UEFA’s powder-puff attempts to restrain spending, as it forced the traditional elite to take part in an arms race for talent with the nouveau riche disruptors Chelsea, Manchester City and PSG, so they wanted their own competition, with their own mutually-agreed financial controls.
    “Let’s imagine we’re in a world where UEFA is just a regulator and there was an open and transparent procedure for making proposals about new competitions,” explains one source close to the project.
    “We should have been able to submit our plans and UEFA should have said, ‘Great, we’ll study them’. But that is not what happened because UEFA is also a competition organiser and it jumped on the announcement to kill the project. If they had not done that, the project would have been corrected, not killed.
    “The ESL could be the worst project on Earth and it would not change the argument. Little by little, UEFA has gone from being a regulator to becoming a commercial giant.
    “So it’s not really about this competition or that one. It’s about governance. Think about what happened in English football in the early 1990s. The FA allowed the top division in England to become the Premier League and the clubs in the Premier League manage their own business. But they are still part of the pyramid and the FA is still the regulator.
    “Is UEFA a regulator or a competitor?”
    This really is the crux of the matter because European Union competition law — I did warn you that Brexit does not mean Brexit — repeatedly poses difficulties for elite sport.
    From an economic point of view, the EU is based on the idea that competition is fundamentally good because it usually leads to better outcomes — usually being the key word here, as the EU also recognises that most economic activities require a little bit of regulation and some require lots.
    In the EU’s early years, sport was not even part of the debate, as national governments and EU officials were happy to leave sporting matters to the governing bodies. The thinking was that sport was not an economic activity and therefore sat outside competition law.
    That idea did not survive legal challenge for long, though, and what we have now, after several landmark cases, is a highly nuanced equilibrium.
    Put simply, international federations like UEFA are allowed to regulate their sports, free from government interference, but there are limits to their monopoly power.

    Agnelli was a key figure in the plan (Photo: Daniele Badolato – Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images)
    For example, they should be allowed to control their sport’s calendar to ensure money trickles down the pyramid and players are not burned out. They should also be able to ban athletes who dope or fix matches, as the sanction is proportionate to the damage that drugs or corruption could do to the sport.
    But should they also be allowed to discourage or stop someone with a legitimate idea for a new competition, simply because that competition threatens their own?
    Good question! How will UEFA answer it?
    Another good question! The short answer is we do not know yet, as this argument is unlikely to reach the ECJ until next spring at the earliest, with most experts thinking it will be a little later than that.
    But a lawyer who has been advising one of the ESL trio believes UEFA will lean on sport’s special status within EU case law.
    “I suspect they’ll say they have ultimate responsibility for organising the game at EU level and, therefore, should be the sole decision-maker on the calendar and regulations,” he explains.
    “It will say all stakeholders have accepted those terms when they agree to compete, which means they have entered into agreements to be bound by those regulations. And one condition of those agreements will be that you cannot compete with them.
    “In layman’s terms, that makes this a breach of contract. If you create another league, with your own rules, you are jeopardising the system and bringing the sport into disrepute. This would mean UEFA suffers a loss and has the right to be compensated.”
    Dr Borja Garcia, a senior lecturer on EU sports policy and governance at Loughborough University, thinks UEFA will defend its anti-competitive response to the ESL — and nobody is disputing the fact that punishing clubs that try to start a rival league is an anti-competitive response — by saying it was justified by noble goals.
    “They will rely on three ‘legitimate objectives’ already accepted by the court in cases such as the Bosman ruling and a more recent case involving the International Skating Union,” says Dr Garcia. “They are that it is OK for federations to adopt measures aimed at training young athletes, promoting competitive balance and ensuring solidarity within sport.
    “It will also probably argue the Super League will restrict the market even more as it is a closed competition and say the market dynamics of football are not comparable to other sports.”
    Dr Katarina Pijetlovic is a reader in sports law at Manchester Metropolitan University and an expert on breakaway sports leagues. She agrees with Garcia that UEFA is on safe grounds in terms of defending its “private regulatory monopoly” and its “right to regulate access to the organisational market”.
    “If not UEFA, then who?” she asks. “EU institutions have zero interest in regulating the sports sector — their role is merely supervisory to ensure that regulatory monopoly is not being abused.
    “UEFA has a mandate over the whole of sport, from grassroots to professional level. Its mandate includes protecting public interests. It is clearly not workable to leave public-interest objectives in the hands of private companies without a mandate or responsibility to anyone but their shareholders.”
    However, Pijetlovic readily accepts that UEFA’s power has limits.
    “As far as a commercial monopoly to organise competitions, nobody has a right to it,” she explains. “What UEFA can do is set out a number of proportionate, objective and non-discriminatory requirements that aspiring organisers of cross-border competitions must fulfil.
    “These requirements cannot be more burdensome than for its own competitions. ESL should then comply with these requirements and so receive an authorisation from UEFA — that’s how to establish a competition.
    “If UEFA’s conditions for authorisation are unreasonable or discriminatory, clubs would have a good chance of success at the ECJ but only if their own proposed competition is legal in itself.
    “(But) facts are crucial here. Have the clubs approached UEFA to inform it they will establish a competition with a closed format or have they asked for permission to establish that competition? In either case, the format threatens European football on many levels and there is a good chance that closed leagues, or virtually closed leagues, are illegal under EU competition law as they limit the market.
    “New competitions should be integrated into the system of promotion and relegation, and access should be based on objective, non-discriminatory criteria. If UEFA refused to entertain the idea of a closed ESL competition, and threatened the clubs with sanctions if they proceed, it might not have been against the law.
    “But if UEFA didn’t have any valid reason to refuse to authorise a competition and the clubs were willing to comply with reasonable criteria, then UEFA doesn’t have much chance to succeed.”
    Got it! And I assume the ESL will say UEFA did not tick any of those boxes?
    Too right.
    “UEFA has no noble objectives to protect,” says the source linked to the project.
    “These noble objectives were a smokescreen. It was protecting its own competition — its own economic interests. That is a clear abuse of a dominant market position and they are operating in a legal twilight zone.
    “Football is an economic activity with a self-appointed regulator. That regulator does lots of useful things but is a regulator allowed to compete in the market it’s regulating? And have a 100 per cent share of the market? That cannot be fair or legal.”
    Garcia thinks this is a valid argument to try but notes that the Luxembourg-based court has usually been sympathetic to sport’s calls for special status.
    He believes the ECJ will say UEFA can have a dual rule as regulator and competition organiser, providing they adopt rules that are proportionate. This could mean, for example, that the threat to ban ESL club players from international football, as was suggested by FIFA and UEFA, is ruled out as disproportionate.
    “The case could be a formal victory for the Super League but it will also reinforce UEFA’s regulatory role and it will then be able to impose sanctions on Super League clubs under a new rules regime,” he explains.
    Dr Antoine Duval, who runs the Asser International Sports Law Centre in The Hague, agrees that we are most likely heading towards a somewhat hollow victory for the ESL clubs.

    Perez and Infantino were on opposing sides of the argument (Photo: Hannah Peters – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
    “It’s about ego now — nothing else,” says Duval. “The Super League wasn’t defeated by UEFA; fans defeated it.
    “I think UEFA wants to lose! They want an excuse not to ban Barca, Juve and Real. They will not want a complete defeat, as they will want the right to protect their calendar but they don’t need to win. Public opinion in the UK has already killed the Super League.
    “What Barca, Juve and Real are looking for is a way to save face. They want to win the argument so they can say to their fans that what they tried wasn’t illegal — it wasn’t very popular but it wasn’t illegal.”
    Or as Garcia puts it: “Despite all the noise coming from the Super League, their real problem is they do not have Premier League clubs on board and I do not think that will change whatever the court decides. The Super League problems are not legal: they are economic and related to marketing.”
    That is almost certainly true… for the time being. In the meantime, the ESL is determined to win its academic argument, work on its sales pitch and wait.
  19. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    James Milner just keeps producing for Liverpool, wherever he plays – next up, shackling Jack Grealish…
    By James Pearce Sept 29, 2021[​IMG] 75 [​IMG]
    Free transfers can end up costing you a fortune. Liverpool have certainly been stung a few times over the years. Think Philipp Degen, Milan Jovanovic and Joe Cole.
    At the other end of the spectrum there are those who arrived at Anfield without a fee being paid whose contribution ultimately proved to be priceless. Gary McAllister is still adored on the Kop 20 years after he helped inspire Gerard Houllier’s Liverpool to an historic treble following the end of his contract at Coventry City. Joel Matip has proved integral to the club’s Jurgen Klopp-inspired resurgence since his deal at Schalke expired in the summer of 2016.
    However, there can be no debate over Liverpool’s most valuable free transfer in the modern era. That honour belongs to a man who continues to laugh in the face of Father Time with his enduring ability to deliver at the highest level.
    This is James Milner’s seventh and potentially final season at Liverpool. He will be 36 by the time his current contract expires next summer. But it’s testament to his professionalism and how he lives his life that he’s still going strong — nearly 19 years after he took his Premier League bow for Leeds United. The vice-captain’s influence on Klopp’s team — both on and off the pitch — continues to be vast.
    He sets the standards on a daily basis and when anyone comes up short he’s not shy when it comes to letting them know about it. He’s the perfect lieutenant for Jordan Henderson in the dressing room.
    Youngsters who have broken into the senior ranks speak about initially feeling intimidated by Milner. You have to earn his respect with how you conduct yourself.
    “Eventually, you see that deep down he’s got a softer side. You just need to break through that hard outer shell,” Trent Alexander-Arnold said in 2019. “He’s always giving out little pieces of advice and words of encouragement. He’s someone who is completely dedicated to his craft. Always putting his body on the line for the team, always willing to sacrifice himself for the team.”
    It’s ironic that Milner talked about it being “a selfish move” when he turned down Manchester City’s lucrative offer of a new contract and joined Liverpool as a free agent in the summer of 2015. Despite being part of two title triumphs at the Etihad, he felt like he wasn’t fully appreciated, and Brendan Rodgers had assured him that he would be playing in his preferred central midfield role at Anfield.
    Some 254 appearances later, he has played just over half (137) of his matches for Liverpool in that position. Those who questioned the wisdom of him walking away from City were made to eat their words when he followed up lifting the Champions League trophy by winning the Premier League crown. He always knew that glory at Anfield after such a barren period would really resonate.
    But during Klopp’s reign he has had to accept that his versatility has meant being shifted around. When the manager asked him whether he wanted to play left-back or right-back in 2016-17, Milner told Klopp: “That’s like asking which one of these guys do you want to spend a night with your missus?!”
    He wasn’t keen on the idea but he got his head down and spent most of the season at left-back — that’s where he has played for Liverpool on 52 occasions (20 per cent). There have also been stints since on the right side of midfield, the left and in the holding role. Now he finds himself operating as Klopp’s emergency right-back after Alexander-Arnold pulled up in training at Kirkby shortly before the flight to Portugal complaining of discomfort in his adductor.
    Milner recently did a job there when he kept Wilfried Zaha expertly shackled during the home win over Crystal Palace and he delivered once again in Tuesday’s ruthless 5-1 demolition of Porto. Luis Diaz, their dangerous Colombian top scorer, barely got a kick. The highlight from Milner was the perfectly placed low cross which embarrassed goalkeeper Diogo Costa and put Liverpool’s second goal on a plate for Sadio Mane.
    There’s always so much focus on his leadership and his combative nature that his quality is too often overlooked. No player has ever provided more Champions League assists for Liverpool than Milner, who is now level with Steven Gerrard on 12 (excluding qualifiers).
    At 3-0, entering the final quarter of a one-sided contest, it was telling that Milner was given a breather with Joe Gomez brought on to replace him. With Alexander-Arnold not expected to be fit until after the October international break, Milner needed to be wrapped in cotton wool.
    He appears certain to start against his former club at Anfield on Sunday. His personal battle on that flank with Jack Grealish promises to be compelling viewing. The free transfer against the £100 million man. Steel against silk.
    Milner will embrace the challenge and put the team first like he always does. He will help set the tone with his controlled aggression. There’s only one thing he hates more than being played out of position and that’s not being picked at all.
    Alexander-Arnold had created 21 chances in the opening six Premier League games of the season, more than any other Liverpool player, but fears that his absence would be keenly felt in the final third against Porto were swiftly allayed.
    Milner certainly helped fill that void and so too did Curtis Jones, the night’s outstanding performer. The academy graduate has stepped up and grasped his chance in the absence of injured midfield duo Harvey Elliott and Thiago. He showed why he was preferred to both Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
    Jones, who was heavily involved in four of the five goals, has to start against City. The balance looked good with him providing the attacking spark while Fabinho and Henderson exerted control. The 20-year-old’s tireless work off the ball was as impressive as his work on it. It was a really mature performance.
    Porto’s depleted backline had no answer to Liverpool’s relentless intensity. Over six games in all competitions in September, Klopp’s men have scored a remarkable 20 goals. It doesn’t even feel like they have been particularly clinical.
    Alexander-Arnold’s injury represents another bout of misfortune but they just keep rolling with the punches — top of the Premier League and top of Champions League Group B with maximum points.
    With a decent amount of recovery time before Sunday, the only real dilemma for Klopp surrounds whether Diogo Jota continues to keep Roberto Firmino out of the starting line-up.
    On a night when Mohamed Salah’s double made him the second-highest African goal scorer in Champions League history with 31, Firmino came off the bench to score twice himself.
    Henderson classily dedicated the victory to Roger Hunt following the death of the legendary Liverpool and England striker at the age of 83. The great man would have loved this exhibition.
    Klopp’s side have momentum behind them as City lick their wounds after a 2-0 defeat at Paris Saint-Germain. “We need a complete performance to even have a chance. It will be a very different game against City,” insisted Klopp.
    That may be so, but he knows he can rely on more of the same from Milner. No fuss, just supreme reliability and dedication from a free transfer like no other who continues to serve Liverpool with distinction.
  20. Hass

    Hass Well-Known Member

    Dec 25, 2006
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    ‘He knows how much Scousers like to beat Manchester teams’ – examining Benitez’s relationship with Manchester United
    Greg O'Keeffe and Caoimhe O'Neill 5h ago[​IMG] 11 [​IMG]
    Facts, Fergie fume and four-goal thrillers — Rafa Benitez has had a storied and colourful relationship with Manchester United during his managerial career so far.
    Tomorrow the Everton manager will be in the dugout against the Red Devils for the 21st time, as he attempts to erase the memory of an inauspicious start to his reign as Everton manager back in August.
    In the final game of pre-season Benitez saw his new team thrashed 4-0 at Old Trafford, but since then the Spaniard has guided his charges to a healthy position in the table and some impressive wins.
    Publicly he maintains that his approach to management is game by game, but any contest against United will always have an extra resonance for Benitez; who has enjoyed and endured skirmishes against Sir Alex Ferguson and his successors that have rarely been dull.

    It was billed as a rant or a meltdown. With Liverpool top of the Premier League in a race for the title with Manchester United, Benitez embarked on a lengthy diatribe during a press conference which repeatedly referenced Alex Ferguson.
    “We had a meeting in Manchester with managers and FA about the Respect campaign,” said Benitez, as he periodically read from prepared notes during the press conference in January 2009. “And I was very clear, forget the campaign because Mr Ferguson was killing the referees, killing Mr Atkinson, killing Mr Hackett. But he is not punished.
    “How can you talk about the respect campaign and criticise the referee every single week?”
    United went on to overhaul their rivals and win the league. Since then, former captain Steven Gerrard has said he felt “embarrassed” by the incident, while Gary Neville has said it was proof his old manager had Bentiez rattled.
    Jamie Carragher, though, never felt it had any influence on the outcome of the title. “Still to this day people always say it affected us,” he told Sky in 2017. “But I don’t think it did because we only lost two league games in the whole season. It wasn’t like we completely went off the rails.”
    For those close to Benitez it is a tiresome bone of contention that he was guilty of a Kevin Keegan “Love it if we beat them”-style outburst.
    “It was completely tactical,” says a source. “Rafa hasn’t got a hot-headed bone in his body and although it shocked people, he knew exactly what he was doing.
    “Rafa will never do anything without thinking about it.
    “The way Ferguson would play his games through the media too, I suppose Rafa was trying to counter that when he was speaking about facts.”
    Hindsight says the “facts” press conference failed but it has gone into the folklore of Benitez’s rivalry with United.
    “Benitez took what was a salient point — that he felt Ferguson was trying to influence the referees — by going on way too much,” says Wayne Barton, a Manchester United fan and author.
    “In fact, in responding to it at all he was making it obvious that Ferguson had got under his skin. By all accounts, the Liverpool players were shocked when they saw it and I think that was the point where most of us stopped taking him too seriously.
    “What started as a serious point quickly descended into a bitter ramble which had clearly been eating him up for some time and while I’m sure there were elements of the Liverpool fanbase who were delighted that he stuck it to Ferguson, that it consumed him to the extent that he started nitpicking when there were plenty of decisions that went his own way would have concerned a few, I’m sure.”
    On the other side of the M62, Liverpool fan and music writer Mo Stewart, views it differently. “If it was a rant then it was the calmest rant in the history of football,” he says.
    “The football world decided that because Liverpool dropped points immediately after, that meant that Manchester United had won that battle. It caught a lot of people off guard, because normally when someone takes on Ferguson, it’s someone a bit more charismatic; Keegan, Mourinho, even Wenger at times. Rafa’s broken English unwittingly made it a bit farcical, despite the fact that everything he said was true.
    “When I first saw it I thought it was brilliant. So many managers before and since had feared Sir Alex — Rafa was adamant that everyone knew he didn’t. That’s what you want as a fan.”

    Benitez has managed against Manchester United 20 times during his career, winning seven, drawing two and losing 11 of those games. Only Arsenal and Chelsea have inflicted more defeats on him, and he will be intent to add another “w” to his record on Saturday lunchtime.
    But is one of those Old Trafford setbacks while managing Liverpool that remains memorable for its dramatic finale.
    Liverpool and United were again neck and neck in a title race in 2006 when Rio Ferdinand struck with a 90th-minute winner. Gary Neville’s celebration in front of the away end, thumping his chest and grabbing the crest on his shirt, has also passed into the annals of this great rivalry.
    Defender Jan Kromkamp was brought off the Liverpool bench in the 89th minute that day, and despite the charged atmosphere afterwards he never saw Benitez lose his calm.
    “Rafa coped well with the rivalry. He always remained a gentleman. I never saw him out of control during these games,” Kromkamp tells The Athletic. “I know we were very disappointed in the dressing room after (that game) because it is a game you really have to win.”
    Kromkamp says Benitez did not mention Gary Neville’s celebration to his players after that game.
    “It is not something you are supposed to do,” Kromkamp says of Neville’s antics. “To celebrate in front of the Liverpool fans (like that).”
    “It was mad,” recalls Barton. “Obviously Gary celebrated like all of us. I remember the criticism he received afterwards from all quarters but if I’m sure Liverpool fans, as much as they hate him, would have appreciated that’s what football is about.”
    The following month Benitez got a slither of revenge in the FA Cup fifth round en route to the 2006 final. Peter Crouch provided the only goal of the game to hand Benitez his first win over Manchester United at the fourth attempt.
    Benitez’s message before the match was no different than it had been the month prior. “It was to ‘win and play with passion’,” Kromkamp reveals. “It was a big win. I remember it was sensational. We were all very happy.”

    Benitez’s sparring with Ferguson during games against United often took on intensely precise tactics off the field too.
    “He would send Sammy Lee down the tunnel at half-time to get by the referee and stand in the way so Fergie couldn’t get into them and pressure them,” recalls the source.
    “Those dark arts are massive and Rafa would think of ways to counter his opposite number.”
    But although there was a sense the two disliked one another, Rafa’s friend says subsequent events prove it was never personal.
    “I remember after Sir Alex retired there was an elite managers’ course and Rafa was there. Well, Fergie was all over him.
    “He asked him to come for dinner and was like his best mate. There was zero animosity. It was as if he wanted to clear the air and make clear that it was just doing his job when they’d clash.”

    Benitez has had some euphoric moments against his old foes.
    There was a 4-1 win at Old Trafford in March 2009, that Liverpool supporters still remember fondly.
    “There were so many narratives at the time — we’d already had ‘the rant’, and this was the first meeting since, so United were coming to put us in our place and knock us out of the title race,” says Stewart.
    “That said, we’d just beaten Real Madrid 4-0 so we were more than ready for them too.
    “The news that Sami Hyypia was back in was a shock, as he had begun to look a bit old, and Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez would be licking their lips to get at them. Well Sami didn’t give them a sniff. They took the lead, with the obligatory penalty but then Torres was all over Vidic, and the game changed.

    Torres gave Vidic a torrid time (Photo: ANDREW YATES/AFP via Getty Images)
    “This mighty defender, lauded by so many, had been made to look so foolish, so incapable. The rest of the match was like a dream — the penalty, the camera kiss, the red card, the free kick, the Dossena cherry.
    “We won other games against Man United, especially under Houllier, but this is the only time in my lifetime that we have humbled them.”
    There were big wins against United at his other clubs too; notably Chelsea and Newcastle.
    Benitez’s Chelsea inflicted a 1-0 defeat on United, via a Juan Mata strike, in Ferguson’s penultimate home game in charge, in May 2013.
    “I think secretly the Manchester United game is always one of the first he looks for,” says the source. “Rafa is a respectful guy and just wants to win. But he buys into the fans’ passions too and knows how much Scousers like to beat Manchester teams.
    “He’ll be every bit as incentivised to get a result there for Everton too.”

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