Up until the last couple of weeks Liverpool had been neither playing well or getting results and it is high time they discovered how to get the job done. Last year they were top of the Premier League on Christmas Day having scored twice as many goals as this season after 17 matches. However, they lost at Manchester City on Boxing Day and by the turn of the year they were out of the top four. They began this match in their lowest position on this day since 1992-93, when they were also 10th, and their focus was on finding a way back into the Champions League reckoning. Their cause was not helped by injuries in the game to goalkeeper Brad Jones and Kolo Toure, the former handing the recently-dropped Simon Mignolet a route back into the team. Such is the Belgian’s reputation, however, he was routinely teased and taunted by the home crowd and not all of that was unjustified in a 75-minute performance which did little to suggest the work and analysis Rodgers claims he has been doing at their Melwood training ground has benefited him at all. Liverpool could not assume the early control they did so completely against the Gunners but they also did not appear to be in that much trouble with Ings firing over early on after Lucas Leiva had dived into a challenge on Dean Marney and was easily side-stepped. Ings, whose four league goals was better than anything the visitors could boast, was a threat and when Martin Skrtel came out to attack a Burnley throw and missed, the striker rammed a shot against the post with Ashley Barnes ballooning over the rebound. Raheem Sterling’s second half strike ensured Liverpool managed their first league victory in four matches despite turning in a poor performance at struggling Burnley. This was supposed to be the match it all clicked into place for Brendan Rodgers’ side, having put together a run of three decent performances which culminated in their dominance of the game if not the points against Arsenal last weekend. Nothing could have been further from the truth even though they won 1-0. And it was Burnley who found out what their opponents recently discovered – playing well does not necessarily guarantee results. That signalled the end for Jones as he was immediately substituted and it was as if Burnley sensed blood with the arrival of his out-of-form replacement. Mignolet’s every touch was jeered and the ridicule only worsened when he drilled a clearance straight into Ings and scrambled to recover. Burnley swarmed forward with renewed encouragement: Barnes headed over, Scott Arfield’s goalbound shot was prevented from creeping inside the post by the tips of Lucas’ toes and both George Boyd and Marney threatened before the break. Mignolet’s only minor victory saw him come off his line sharply to beat Barnes to the ball. By contrast Liverpool created just two chances with Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana shooting straight at Tom Heaton. Rodgers made a second substitution at the break, sending on midfielder Emre Can to play as the third centre-back, and while his introduction could in no way be described as influential Liverpool did stem the flow of what seemed almost constant pressure. But having failed to create anything resembling a genuine chance they took the lead out of nowhere just past the hour. Coutinho’s lob sent Sterling clear and around goalkeeper Tom Heaton, rolling a shot past Burnley’s despairing defenders trying to get back. However, the goal provided no sense of calmness or composure – mainly thanks to the unconvincing Mignolet who managed to save Arfield’s angled shot with his legs having dived the wrong way anticipating a cross and then allowed a Mamadou Sakho back pass to roll out of play before he cleared it. The welcome sight of last season’s 20-goal striker Sam Vokes making his first appearance since March after a cruciate knee ligament injury was some consolation for Burnley fans. Press Association
Sometimes, it’s just the right move to say goodbye. Willie Mays never should have suited up for the New York Mets. Joe Namath never should have made the cross country trek to become a Los Angeles Ram (speaking of saying goodbye, I guess it’s fitting to mention football in L.A.). But, in all seriousness, goodbyes are a necessary occurrence in life. And, I bet no one could see this segue coming from a mile away, this is my chance to say goodbye in my final column as sports editor at The Badger Herald.In the spirit of avoiding to create too much of a sentimental pang in all of your hearts, I’ll sum up any of the sappy stuff quickly. It has been a good ride, from the road trips and the bright lights of Camp Randall to the late nights and the sunny afternoons at McClimon Soccer Complex. Without any doubt, it’s left a huge imprint on me — and for that I have to quickly thank the man who gave me a start and has helped me at every step along the way, my brother Joe.But, to keep the cheesiness at a minimum, here is a small sampling of some of the things I will never forget from a year covering a spectrum of Wisconsin athletics.-Covering the 2005 UW football season: Traveling to Penn State to see Beaver Stadium packed to the brim was amazing enough. Ditto for witnessing Jonathan Casillas’ punt block in the Metrodome. But being on the field when John Stocco scampered into the end zone to beat Michigan and for Barry Alvarez’s farewell address against Iowa was absolutely unreal. Just seeing a team that entered the college football season as a wildcard turn into a contender for the conference title was interesting enough … but to take in some of the greatest finishes and moments in the history of the program all in one year was even more unexpected heading into the year.-Watching Aaron Hohlbein win header after header after header … Yeah, you get the idea. Hohlbein, a junior on the UW men’s soccer team, is simply one of the premier defenders in the Big Ten, let alone the nation. Too bad you could probably count the number of students who have seen him play on a single hand. The most obvious bit of talent that makes Hohlbein so good is his ability in the air; ironically, I can probably count the number of headers I’ve seen him lose on that same hand. Nick Van Sicklen became the first UW player to earn a spot in Major League Soccer under Badger head coach Jeff Rohrman; he won’t be the last though — Hohlbein’s got all the talent and smarts to play at the next level. Maybe seeing a future pro would be a good move next fall, eh students?-Talking to Adam Burish: If there ever was such thing as a walking quote, it’s Burish. And they’re not ridiculous, Chad Johnson-esque quotes; Burish tells it like it is, and he tells it in ways that look really good in print. He might not be the most skilled player, but he’ll work hard on the ice and in the media room. And in my book, that’s a pretty solid skill to have. He’s an ideal captain for the UW hockey team and an ideal interview.-Tim Krumrie is fighting people? Last, but certainly not least, this is one of the most vivid images from the Wisconsin football team’s 2005 Pro Day. Krumrie, a former Badger defensive tackle and current Buffalo Bills defensive line coach, attended the workout day to get a good look at UW’s bumper crop of linemen, a group that of course included first round pick Erasmus James. But Krumrie got more than just a good look … he proceeded to engage in a stand-up wrestling type exercise with James and the rest of the Badger linemen — a drill that resembled some sort of bizarre mix of shoot fighting and bear combat. But here’s the best part — he did it all while rocking tight denim jeans and brown cowboy boots. Absolutely splendid; I can still remember trying to explain the occurrence to the rest of the sports staff. And if that wasn’t the perfect memory to end with, I don’t know what is. Thanks for reading.
Alejandro Sabella’s side has, as yet, failed to ignite the World Cup finals and like the Argentina side of 1986 are likely to be propelled forward by their mercurial No 10.Such is the influence of the indecently talented genius from Rosario that this looks like it could be Lionel Messi’s, rather than Argentina’s,World Cup.Messi’s brilliance could mask the mediocrities and often defensive ineptitude of an average side that is gradually improving, but not really producing great football.I was speaking recently to a member of the Argentine staff at the 1986 World Cup – forever labelled the Maradona World Cup – who told me that if you watched the tournament you would see that Maradona had perhaps about 10 to 15 minutes throughout the whole tournament and that is what is remembered.Everything else he said was based around a solid Argentina side and the fact that they conceded just five goals throughout the tournament – including two in the final.While the world drooled at Messi’s stellar display against Nigeria, the sight of Musa ambling through the middle of the Argentine defence to hit his side’s equaliser, is more than worrying for a side that has already conceded the same amount of goals it had when it reached the final in 1986. Individually the back four is not a bad team. Pablo Zabaleta you all know, Ezequiel Garay has just been sold to Zenit St Petersburg for £12 million and had other leading teams after him, Marcos Rojo, linked to Barcelona, has had a very good season at Sporting and Fede Fernández has played 18 times this season for Napoli, third this season in Serie A with the third best defence.Their problem when they play for their national team is that they know that Argentina forwards do not defend and often their midfield find it an inferior activity. They know they will have to deal with three or four one v ones against the rival forwards and if they do not stop them, they will have to bear the cross.They are not comfortable players when they go on the pitch.Argentina’s gradual improvement is due in no small part to player-power and in particular what occurred at half time in the opening match against Bosnia-Herzegovina.Alejandro Sabella’s decision to play a five-man defence, something he had experimented with in pre-tournament friendlies, went down badly with the players. But while the younger, less assertive, Messi might have accepted the situation and carried on, the older, more assertive one, did not. This is Messi’s time, his tournament, the one he’s been waiting for, and if it is going to be lost, it will be lost playing his way, not somebody else’s. Messi and the other leaders of the changing room (Javier Mascherano, Zabaleta) got their way.Fernando Gago was needed to give more shape to a midfield that looked slow and predictable and two attackers were required because it is when playing behind two front men that Messi is at his most lethal as more spaces are created. Gonzalo Higuaín also came on at half time. In 2010 Maradona, the then Argentina manager asked Messi what system he wanted to play to, and Leo, although firstly reticent, told him precisely that, adding that he would also want a wing back tracking up the flanks. Maradona tried it for the next game and then dropped it, forcing Leo to drop deeper to start the moves, link up and finish … with a resultant loss of energy and creativity for Messi, and all in all a shapeless team.An older, wiser Messi now knows that, if the team does not open up the pitch and create spaces for him to use, the solution for him is to wait for his moment, because he knows he will always have at least one – like the set-piece against Nigeria, or in a run on goal against Iran to make the most of it.Against Nigeria Argentina’s distribution was quicker, there was more movement off the ball from the forwards, especially after the introduction of Ezequiel Lavezzi who is a winger used to work harder defensively than the three forwards, all No 9s, that were used against Iran.So by accident, the injury of Sergio Agüero, Argentina seem to have found a balance and a better way to find spaces. With more spaces, a more dynamic and active Messi. It is that simple, really. The defensively minded Sabella whose tactics had brought him within minutes of winning the Fifa Club World Cup final with Estudiantes against Barcelona and also masterminded the clubs Copa Libertadores win in Cruzeiro’s backyard, has been forced into another plan.The die is cast, and Sabella who admits to having sleepless nights because he can’t stop thinking about the World Cup, knows there is no turning back now.But his first instinct was correct, because, as Nigeria, and also Iran and Bosnia-Herzegovina occasionally showed, this is more than a poor defence – this is a weak unbalanced team that does not know how to defend as an unit.His idea was initially to protect his side, and then little by little become more adventurous. He can forget that notion, strap on his seat belt and along with the rest of us try to enjoy what will almost certainly end up being a roller coaster of a ride at both ends of the pitch.June 24 saw Messi celebrate his 27th birthday, coincidentally at the same time as one of the cooks with the Argentine squad. Two cakes were provided and at Leo’s insistence the entire squad sang ‘Happy Birthday’ and presented them both with a cake. “First the chef”, Leo said. He has now become a leader and with it has come a new maturity. Cards have taken the place of the constantly switched on PlayStation as a main form of relaxation and there’s now a mellowness that now accompanies the mercurial brilliance he displays on the pitch.“We’re getting better,” he says, before adding perhaps with a look at the work without the ball, ”we can’t make mistakes, because, now, after just one game you can be out.”“But we certainly want more.”