Everton Snatch Draw at the Death

Originally published on LFCOnline.com website.

Red and blue collided at Anfield in the first Merseyside derby of this year’s Premier League campaign.

While only six games into the new season, given the each team’s early struggles, this match already looked like a crucial clash. It proved to be the most dramatic match of the season yet, as Everton snatched an unlikely equalizer in stoppage time, courtesy of a Phil Jagielka wonder strike, for a 1-1 draw.

Little motivation is needed to get up for a Merseyside derby, and the six new Reds making their first appearance in this classic fixture were introduced to just how hot blood can run from the opening whistle. It took little more than a minute for the first yellow card to be issued by referee Martin Atkinson.

As Liverpool came out flying down the pitch, Adam Lallana slashed his way across the pitch at speed, just outside of the penalty area, when Gareth Barry hatcheted him down.

Five minutes into the contest, Everton’s Romelu Lukaku broke into the Liverpool box, colliding with Alberto Moreno, without a call. As Lukaku reached an arm across Moreno, looking for a penalty call, Moreno may have masked a slight tug. Still, play continued and bodies continued fling into tackles all over the pitch.

In the 9th minute, the kind of controversy familiar to this derby flared when Raheem Sterling unloaded a lash from outside the left corner of the penalty area and into the outstretched arm of Gareth Barry in the box. While it could be argued that the arm was high to protect his face from the blast, many a penalty have been given for less.

Then less than a minute later, Barry was fought dawdling on the ball when Mario Balotelli worked hard to dispossess him only to be hooked by an embarrassed Barry. After this second incident it was curious how Gareth Barry remained in the match. Perhaps Barry actually benefitted from such an early caution, that referee Atkinson was reticent to send off a player less than 10 minutes into a match.

Yet, it almost didn’t seem to matter, as the Reds looked eager to score from the onset. Lallana won a free header on a Steven Gerrard corner, but could only force a sprawling save from Tim Howard.

Still, Liverpool looked much brighter from the start of this one, showing a refreshed sense of urgency to their game. Adam Lallana, in particular, is growing in confidence as he gets on the ball more and continues to play his way into form after the early injury. Also, Sterling remains the most menacing player in red on the pitch and looks to forge a partnership with Balotelli, despite generating no goals yet.

In the 26th minute, Leighton Baines beat Lazar Markovic to a ball in the Liverpool final third, before driving a low, hard cross dangerously across the Reds net, which Dejan Lovren hastily cleared. Markovic has yet to look up for the physicality of the Premier League and is definitely lacking confidence to make a genuine impact.

A few minutes later, Jordan Henderson unleashed a strike that was repelled by Howard. In the ensuing counter, however, he quickly recovered to stop Kevin Mirallas on the other end, before Mirallas pulled a hamstring in the effort. In the 31st minute, Aiden McGeady would replace the injured midfielder.

Liverpool fullbacks continued to whip crosses into the area from either side of the field, and Moreno nearly found the head of Balotelli, who seemed to simply miss-time his jump when attacking the aerial ball. Balotelli also seems to still be finding his way in the side, struggling to know where to be, what positions to take, and often dropping deep to get on the ball and glean some touches.

Just before the half, Henderson won the ball and started a counter, where he found a streaking Sterling, angling into the box on the left but lacking the finish. The moment seems to sum up the first half for Liverpool, who were energetic and at times surging forward but lacking a cutting edge.

The second half was more of the same, as Liverpool continued to firmly control the match, creating chances but unable to find the finish.

In the 48th minute, Sterling fond Markovic flashing down the center of the pitch with a beautiful through ball behind the Toffee’s defense, only to find Markovic unable to keep control and eventually going to ground when challenged. Markovic would eventually yield way to Philippe Coutinho in the 60th minute.

The match took a turn, when in the 63rd minute, Balotelli, again dropping outside the area got the ball on the right and looked to cut into the middle when he was fouled by Baines 20 yards away from goal, in a dangerous position right of the goal. Then Gerrard bent a spectacular drive over the wall and into the upper near-post corner, pinging off a desperate Howard palm, for the game’s first goal. There was no stopping the strike by the Red’s captain.

Moments later, Lukaku would mirror Balotelli’s missed header in the shadow of the Kop End, which launched a counter that saw Sterling slip behind the defense and cross the ball to Balotelli for a quick finish. However, Howard got the slightest of touches on the ball, sending it to carom off the crossbar and out of play. It was a missed chance that would prove costly.

Everton gained possession for stretches of the second half and Liverpool seemed all too content to contain and defend the attack far from the goal. Yet, the Reds dropped deeper as the half continued, conceding ground to the visitors. When they yielded a corner in the 90th minute, albeit only the second of the match, concern was not out of order.

Then heartbreak hit, as a weakly cleared header by Dejan Lovren bounced just left of the arc where Phil Jagielka would rip an unstoppable, slicing, 20 yard strike into the far corner of the net. There was nothing an outstretched Simon Mignolet could have done to even get a touch on it, and a draw that feels more like a loss was sealed.

Despite the a draw at the death, Liverpool showed definite signs of progress. The Redmen played with a much higher tempo and attacking threat than their recent Premier League fixtures. This match even showed a somewhat refreshed industry to create more chances, but Liverpool continue to struggle to find the incisive final pass and suffer from a failure to finish. Both the team and the match longed for the return of injured Daniel Sturridge.

If Liverpool can build on the positives and forget the draw at the death in time for their Champions League trip to Switzerland, the newfound energy could help propel them to greater strength in performance. Still, Sturridge cannot return to the lineup soon enough.

Reds Rocked by a Hammering at Upton Park

Originally published on LFCOnline.com website.

Fresh off a fortunate win in their midweek return to the Champions League, Liverpool were rocked by West Ham at Upton Park for a second straight league loss.

Just 80 seconds into the fixture and the home side found the net from a sleepy Reds defense on the first game’s corner.

A long corner to the back post was headed down and back into the fray by James Tomkins, where Winston Reid pounced on loose ball, punishing Liverpool practically from the opening whistle. Worse still, there was little let up from the Hammers as they continued flying into tackles and countering with pace in the extreme.

It did not take long for West Ham to double their advantage, when in the 7th minute Diafra Sakho drove into the penalty area, wide of the goal on the left, and chipped the entire Liverpool back line, including a frozen and out of position Simon Mignolet.

A shellshocked Liverpool side were all over the ground, reeling, as a suspicious starting eleven struggled to even gain a grip on the match. For the first 15 minutes, the Hammers repeatedly blitzed forward, reminiscent of Liverpool last season, leaving the Merseysiders looking like they were just  promoted.

While more questions have been surfacing about Mignolet’s quality in goal, they will only multiply and be amplified after this performance, which found him standing or scrambling in equal measure, both out of position and unaware.

After 16 minutes, frustration may have started boiling over as Mario Balotelli, chased down a back pass to Hammers’ goalkeeper, Adrian, catching him late in a challenge. Adrian did not take kindly to it and loomed over a flat Baloetlli. The two squared off momentarily, before both received yellow cards. Still, it was a sign of life.

Under Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool often struggles against physically rugged sides, especially when playing away from Anfield. If their pressing and possession are not clipping at a quick pace, players find themselves regularly getting caught in tackles and pounded on and off the ball. West Ham capitalized on this and continued to blunt any Liverpool rhythm with a high and suffocating press when briefly out of possession.

In an attempt to find some way to seize a foothold in the midfield and match, Rodgers substituted Javier Manquillo for Mamdou Sakho in minute 21. This tactical move introduced more size and changed the shape of the side with three at the back and Alberto Moreno pushing higher into the midfield.

The results looked promising as Raheem Sterling streaked into the box to slash a quality finish from a Balotelli shot that rebounded off the marking defender at 25 minutes. A minute later, Hammers midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate was given a yellow card for a high, late challenge on Moreno in the Reds penalty area, and Liverpool looked like the short break might help them play their way back into the match.

In the the 34th minute, Dejan Lovren and Sakho clashed heads and the game saw another long pause, as Lovren received treatment but eventually returned to play. It was a questionable decision to let Lovren return but the medical staff was never in a rush to assess his condition.

The first half ended with more West Ham, as Downing pulled the strings in almost trequartista fashion, carving up the Reds defense with real menace.

As the second half began, Adam Lallana was added for Lucas and Liverpool made another attempt to claw their way back into the match.

In the 52nd minute, Balotelli found Fabio Borini in the right channel, racing forward and into the box before taking a weak near post shot from a poor angle. Yet the sequence showed some intent and the beginning of a spell where the Reds threatened briefly.

Only 8 minutes later, a scrum of yellow bodies were flying in the West Ham penalty area, as the away side pushed for and equalizer. Lallana was eventually sent sprawling at the top of the box and the ball found its way to Borini who lashed a curler high over the crossbar.

In the 75th minute, Liverpool looked like they might yet find a point, as they looked more composed on the ball and were attacking with more speed, but still lacked edge in the box. Rickie Lambert was introduced for Borini, who only be described as putting in an almost invisible performance. West Ham countered by shoring up their defense by sending James Collins in for Enner Valencia.

Lallana looked brighter in this appearance as he tried to spark a Liverpool comeback. Yet, one foul after another, injuries, and slow restarts became the norm for the final quarter-hour. Plus, the Hammers packed in at the back and looked only to counter.

With little or no penetration into the Hammers’ box from anyone other than Sterling, who seemed to play all over the ground tonight, hope began slipping.

Then, in the 87th minute Downing’s man of the match performance continued against his old teammates, when he sloted Morgan Amalfitanowith a through ball that lead him past Martin Skrtel for  a cool finish in the far side netting, past a frozen Mignolet. it was an unsurprising end to horrible all-around display by Liverpoool.

Two league losses in a row may not be cause for panic, but will certainly raise mounting questions as to whether it is the beginning of a trend. Once again in league play, Liverpool began with the wrong starting eleven, wrong tactics, wrong start, and poor, poor play. The international break, which came just as the Reds looked to have found their form, and saw their squad rocked with a rash of injuries has definitely proven problematic. It has left this team short of confidence and form, and unable to reclaim their identity as one of the top teams in the Premier League.

Readings & Reactions: To Diane Ravitch and Anthony Cody – Really?

Image: EdWeek's Top Performers blog banner

Photo: Marc S. Tucker   Photo: Anthony Cody

By Marc Tucker @ EdWeek’s Top Performers blog

This recent blogpost where Marc Tucker rebuts Anthony Cody’s previous criticisms of education’s impact on the economy is a fascinating window into two very different points of view that more likely talking past one another rather than to one another.

While I certainly cannot speak for Mr. Cody, I would point to a small but significant distinction between the point I think he was making and the point that Tucker is countering.

It seems to me that in Tucker’s rebuttal is making education and schooling synonymous, which is common. However, as one part of a wider discussion, which seems to be Mr. Cody’s major endeavor both in his former EdWeek column and beyond, is that education and schooling are not necessarily as synonymous as sometimes believed.

Of course, it is foolish to argue against many of the facts that Tucker offers about income rates generally being higher for those that complete more schooling, but a much stronger argument could be made that the individuals that complete the various scholastic benchmarks cited begin with an array of advantages that might otherwise enhance their income. This point gets no mention in the column.

I would also add that “higher levels of knowledge, skills and technology,” may be a product of higher levels of education, but is not a guarantee. Ideally, this is true. Yet again, education and schooling are not necessarily the same. The educational system, made up of schools, is not the only source of education, nor should it ever be. Employee training programs can also be a form of education that can enhance income considerably, when done well, and that is only one additional source.

However, many companies cut training and development opportunities to increase their bottom line and satisfy shareholders, while blaming the decline of the educational system for its inability to produce qualified workers.

This raises the spectre of another wider debate about the purpose of an education, and how much of that purpose be strictly vocational, but that easily exceeds the boundaries of one column. Still, education may be the result of schooling, training, apprenticeship, and far more opportunities and alternatives that exist beyond what is considered the traditional educational system.

To suggest that there are not places where the existing educational system can be improved is folly, but admitting that also does not require the admission that the system is failing. Plus, comparing our students to other nations’ students is also not without serious flaws, again far more than would fit in a single column.

It seems to me that Mr. Tucker and Mr. Cody might very well be writing past one another, using common vocabulary but meaning very different things.

Reds Salvage a Win in Return to Europe

Originally published on LFCOnline.com website.

After a five year absence, Merseyside finally hosted a long-awaited European night in the Champions League.

Anfield was clearly buzzing with anticipation as the Reds hosted little-known Bulgarian champions Ludogorets. Yet the crowd would have to wait for a flurry of action in the final minutes to see Liverpool salvage a 2-1 victory.

The match started some pace and urgency for the first few minutes before fouls started to slow things slightly. It only took six minutes before the first yellow card of the match when Aleksandar Aleksandrov tripped Raheem Sterling on the left touchline ending a potential break.

With the early energy and anxiety yet to burn off, Liverpool pressed hungrily to regain possession whenever they lost the ball and looked to get forward quickly in the early going. However, classy touches were in short supply until things would settle.

Ten minutes into the match Alberto Moreno streaked down the left flank, penetrating into the box before launching a cross well high and beyond the goal. It was indicative of most early crosses overhit with the surge of Champions League circumstances. Still, Moreno began well, routinely overlapping Sterling, to lash crosses into the penalty area.

Fifteen minutes in Liverpool had a half chance as Adam Lallana found Mario Balotelli centrally in the penalty area with his back to the goal. Unfortunately, his first touch left him wanting and the set-up was squandered.

Ludogorets would prove that there are few easy fixtures in the Champions League and gave the Reds an early scare as Junior Caicara worked a nice give-and-go and drove deep into midfield before sending a curling whipped ball in behind the Liverpool defensive line, just missing an onrushing striker Roman Bezak. It was the kind of splitting pass, straight through the central defense, that would nearly haunt the Reds. The visitors began growing in some confidence after that gaining some time in their attacking third briefly midway throughout he opening half.

In the twenty-first minute, Sterling lead a flurry of Red attempts with Balotelli breaking free at the top of the penalty area for a shot that deflected to Lallana who drove into the right side of the box, firing a shot that was saved before bouncing out to an offside Sterling. It was the first spark of Liverpool getting bodies crashing forward.

A few minutes later, Dejan Lovren nearly gave away what would have been a soft penalty, but Ludogorets by now had found some positive energy to carry them forward with al little more intent. Having not capitulated to the early Liverpool press, and helped by a spell of poor passing from the Reds, the away side showed resolve and refused to be intimidated but he occasion or the ground.

Despite surrendering a handful of corners, the Reds defense looked strong defensively. Simon Mignolet, in particularly was taking command of the area and securing the ball with poise.

Perhaps the best attack of the half came in the thirty-seventh minute when Sterling released Phillipe Coutinho on the left side. Racing forward Coutinho found Henderson cutting into the box. Although Henderson could not find a shot, he found Lallana who pulled a quick shot that deflected back to him for a second effort only for it to be smothered by the defender, spinning out for a corner.

With the opening of the second half, Liverpool looked to move the ball with more purpose and intent,  but still lacked the quality of the final touch to spring any clear cut chances, much like their weekend stumble against Aston Villa.

As second half settled, Ludogorets looked more and more at sitting deep, blunting attacks with tactical but not reckless fouls, and then counter with pace down the flanks. They continued to get at least eight men behind the ball and proved difficult to break down.

Despite a sustained push by Liverpool, in the 64th minute a quick Ludogorets throw nearly caught Liverpool, as Bezjak surged forward only to find the post after putting the ball passed a stretched Mignolet.

A couple of minutes later, Fabio Borini entered the match for Lallana and Lucas for Coutniho. The team shape would adjust as Borini would push higher to pair with Balotelli and Sterling slid centrally in the hole behind the strikers.

The match began to turn with less than ten minutes to go, beginning with Moreno streaking in for a match-winning challenge in the Reds box, then working his way to the other end of the pitch to cross an excellent ball into Balotelli who knocked it down and finished with a classy outside-of-the-foot flick  at the Kop end for his first goal as a Red.

Balotelli did give a ball away that started a Ludo burst forward until Lucas fouled to give a central free kick about 30 yards from goal.

Ludogorets swapped Svetoslav Dyakov for midfielder Fábio Espinho in the 82nd minute and Younes Hamza for Bezjak in the 86th.

In between the subsitutions, Balotelli pushed into the box from the left and unleashed a blistering shot that forced newly signed keeper, Milan Borjan, to parry, with Sterling unable to find the rebound.

In what seemed like the closing minute of the match, Caicara dispossesd Sterling just outside visitor’s the penalty area and found Hamza, who spuns and delivered a splitting through ball between Lovren and Mamadou Sakho. Ludogorets’ striker Dani Abalo slipped behind Lovren and had an easy time finishing as Mignolet madly raced out and into no-man’s-land, exposing an open goal.

Less than a minute later, Javier Manquillo’s pressed the Ludogorets’ keeper Borjan, along the right  edge of the box, into a desperate and poor challenge, winning a penalty. Gerrard ensured the win, slotting a penalty into the lower right corner.

Despite surrendering an away goal to the Bulgarians, Liverpool earned a victory in what could only be described as a scrappy and challenging match. The Reds still look like a side trying to find their way back to the swashbuckling form they exhibited last season, with fits and starts, but struggling to find the familiarity and fluidity needed to reduce touches and anticipate movements of teammates.

They certainly had moments of pinging the ball back and forth in the midfield, probing for depth and using the width, but they again struggled to find ways behind a disciplined, low, and retreating defensive block. It is a problem for which they will need to find a solution sooner rather then later to continue winning with consistency over a crowded cluster of fixtures.

Villans Steal Victory at Anfield

Originally published on LFCOnline.com website.

Aston Villa pounced on poorly defended corner, scoring an early goal, and made it count for the result, winning 1-0 at Anfield.

Liverpool, returning after an international break that could not have come at a worse time for a side that looked like they had started to found their form, struggled from the start with seven new faces in the starting eleven. Despite a handful of Anfield debuts for the Reds, this match was no coming out party for any of them.

New signings Adam Lallana and Javier Manquillo looked like a possible threat on the left in the first few minutes, but the promise never completely materialized. Lallana would ultimately look like the player who had not played competitively in some time that he is. Manquillo, for his part, would send a number of crosses into the box during the match with little or no effect.

Apart from a bright sequence of play in the 6th minute, Liverpool were a side out of sorts. Beginning with a long diagonal pass played by Jordan Henderson from a deep position, Markovic flicked the ball too Manquillo in the corner who crossed it back to Markovic for a snap header that fell way wide of the far post.

Liverpool began again with the defensive four from the White Hart Lane clean sheet: Alberto Moreno, Dejan Lovren, Mamadou Sakho, and Javier Manquillo. However, the back four looked even less familiar with one another at home in the early going, frantic to cover and find their steel. In the 9th minute, Villa outmuscled Liverpool’s defense on every front in the goalmouth, jumping on a loose ball in the area and slipping it past Simon Mignolet for the only goal needed.

Conceding an early goal only seemed  to increase Liverpool’s troubled defensive vulnerabilities. It wasn’t until the 20th minute that the Reds began to find possession and string a series of passes together, trying to gain a foothold in the game.

It was at that point, referee Lee Mason’s crew completely failed to spy Aston Villa’s Philippe Senderos kick Mario Balotelli’s leg out from under him off the ball, in what became a clear targeting of the Reds new striker. Senderos might have been the most guilty , but the Villains rotated defenders in the Balotelli bashing very deliberately with no consequences.

Liverpool’s Phillipe Coutinho dropped deeper and deeper into the midfield looking to get on the ball and dictate play, desperately trying to regain the scintillating form he displayed in the pre-season. Unfortunately, he and his teammates were left searching for the creativity and precision of a final touch to create any real chances.

Lazar Markovic, in his first start, had trouble finding a way into the match to deliver any impact. Plus, the double pivot of two deep midfielders has yet work successfully, regardless of personnel.

At the half, the match cried out for a second striker and Raheem Sterling, resting from his England performance. Yet, terse were no changes at the half.

After the break, the Reds tried to impose themselves, controlling the ball for long stretches. Still, their possession lacked urgency and they continued to struggle creating space behind a well organized and physically rugged Villa defense bunkered in their own end.

In the 65th minute Sterling came on for Lallana. Within five minutes, both Ricky Lambert and Fabio Borini entered the match for Balotelli and Markovic, changing the shape of Liverpool’s side. Unfortunately, little real threat materialized. Sterling was bright and linked with Coutinho, but the  home side could not find the finish. Lambert still has to find his form and Borini was all but invisible in this cameo.

This looked much more like the Reds from the first two fixtures than it did the one that thrashed Spurs. The Reds still lack answers to a tough, rugged defense content to pack it in at the back and are only likely to see more of that from opposing teams. It was clearly not the Red’s day.