Sterling Caught Between Club and Country

Originally published on website.

Gary Lineker is right. Alan Shearer is wrong. It is as simple as that.

Caught in the middle of the club and country debate, Raheem Sterling has become the latest casualty of the tired dilemma.

While one ex-England striker decries the workingman’s lament and scoffs at a nineteen year-old being tired, another recognizes that teenagers are still young, moody, and developing.

Truth, Raheem Sterling is barely still a boy in what is very much a man’s world.

It should be remembered that in less than a year since Sterling’s meteoric rise towards fulfilling his potential, he couldn’t keep his own personal life out the press. It threatened to derail his fledgling career. Everyone saw the talent, but the kid was struggling, both on the pitch and in court.

With help, he clearly sorted himself out and embarked on a sensational run of form that has marked him as one of the best young players in Europe, if not the world.

Unfortunately, his star has shown so brightly in the last few months, he has arguably become the most talismanic player on the pitch for both club and country — a heavy burden for any nineteen year-old, let alone one only recently righted from the trappings of too much too soon.

Yet again, Sterling finds himself in the dailies for all the wrong reasons, only this time wrongly faulted.

England manager Roy Hodgson has played Sterling as the pawn in his ongoing row with Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers, benevolently suggesting Only this time Hodgson might well have mislaid his hands on the wrong piece, mistaking his most valuable for the least.

Hodgson’s decision to reveal his conversation with the Sterling makes the player look bad to some, but makes Hodgson look only more the fool. Worse still, to hang a player out publicly (all the more unseemly as an act of praise), question the training methods of the club, and engage in this farcical back-and-forth with Rodgers makes the case against himself only stronger.

To question any high profile club willing to invest millions into their players, in an effort to maximize performance over the course of a campaign with the understanding that international duty may be included, is embarrassing, despite anyone that might support Hodgson.

Players of Sterling’s age and quality are by definition different and should be treated differently as well. Clubs can never be thrilled with the risk of releasing their prized assets, but they generally do so and with very little recourse at that.

While the debate rages on a multiple fronts, there has been no shortage of comments highlighting Hodgson’s folly.

Renowned Dutch conditioning expert and recent Wales assistant Raymond Verheijen even scoffed at Hodgson’s antiquated ignorance on facts, as well as remarking how the requirements of a still growing body differ those of a fully matured man.

While Rodgers might currently see the at the prospects of sending any of his players to St. Georges Park, he must be having quite the laugh at Hodgson. In fact, look for Rodgers to fiercely protect Sterling but also add a quip or two to invite further Hodgson stupidity in Liverpool’s upcoming press conference. It is unlikely, Hodgson will be able to avoid the bait.

Fresh off a fine World Cup, like it or not, European club football has eclipsed the international game, in terms of consequence. The money alone has made that a fact. Rupert Murdoch would not continually pursue the pipe dream of a super league were that not the case.

Plus a simple truth has endured for over a decade. If a national side does not possess any quality players from one of the top twelve or so European clubs, that national side is no good. Denying this is pure vanity.

International football continues to be important, but its power has waned in deference to the power of money and annual club contests that generate it. In the process, club versus country has been rendered a falsity.

Rather than tangling with a manager at one of those resurgent giants of European club football, at the expense of his brightest young talent, Hodgson would be wise to take a more cooperative stance. Should he continue to show his clownish colors, Hodgson may just find a number of players more often unfit for international duty. Surely, Sterling will think twice before the next call.

Decisive victory at White Hart Lane

Originally published on website.

White Hart Lane was always going to prove a good early test for both clubs, as Liverpool returned to the ground that essentially unlocked their title-contending season.

Dispatching Spurs with an emphatic 5-0 battering that triggered a second Premier League mid-season sacking for Andreas Villas Boas, this time looked to be different. Yet the opening ten minutes might have had everyone rethinking just how different would it be.

In the second minute Daniel Sturridge sent a dangerous cross from the left wing into his new strike partner Mario Balotelli, who headed it down on goal but into a scrambling Spurs’ keeper Hugo Lloris. A minute later Gerrard sprayed the first of a number of deep diagonal passes into Spurs final third, this one to new boy Alberto Moreno in the left corner who would lose it and spark a short run of play for Spurs as they tried to get a foothold in the match.

Then in a precision sequence reminiscent of last year’s Liverpool,  Jordan Henderson won a scramble deep in the right side midfield, playing Sturridge forward down the wing. Sturridge made a slippery run feinting inside and beating two down the wing, returning it to Hendo, making a scything run deep into the penalty, where he would slot it across the area to an onrushing Raheem Sterling to wrap it up with a clean and tidy finish.

Within a couple of minutes, Emanuel Adeboyor nearly equalized, catching Dejan Lovren unable to cover and Simon Mignoet in no-man’s-land, but lofted it on to the roof of the net.

Again, a couple of minutes later Sturridge wriggled away from a couple of markers to flash one past the right post, capping what was a bracing first eleven minutes with Liverpool up 1-0.

Soon, the match settled and Liverpool let Spurs have the ball for long stretches, content to break with the lightning counter pace that became their hallmark in the last campaign.
Around a half an hour, debutant Balotelli started to show why he was brought into the fold, playing a nifty backheel to Sturridge who then took a speculative left footed curler from just outside the right corner of the penalty area. Then he showed his power and strength, holding up Younes Kaboul before turning him hard and flicking a ball to advance Sterling, which brought Lloris far outside his area for a errant clearance that fell back to Balotelli. Unfortunately, Balotelli hooked the return far wide of the mark, but his presence was an obvious positive.

This likely looked like the defense that many a Reds fan has been waiting to see with Alberto Moreno, Mamadou Sakho, Dejan Lovren, and Javier Manquillo across the back line. Despite a few errant passes and miscommunication between Sakho and Lovren, to be expected in their first pairing, the defense held firm. Collectively, as a team, the Liverpool pressing continued to slow Spurs attack into the break.

Conversely, Liverpool effectively beat Spurs’ pacey pressing, moving the ball at speed to beat the Spurs press sliding up the pitch repeatedly.

A couple minutes after the break, Spurs’ Eric Dier naively pulled at Joe Allen, as Allen broke behind in the in the penalty area, giving an arguably soft but certain penalty. After Gerrard cooly slashed the ball into the lower left corner past a correctly guessing Lloris, Liverpool stood 2-0 after 47 minutes and went into cruise control.

While new hope manager Mauricio Pochettino made a couple of substitutions, Andros Townsend for Christian Eriksen and Mousa Dembele for Nabil Bentaleb at 59 minutes, it would all unravel. On Townsend’s first touch, Moreno, at his pick-pocket best, stole the ball, streaked down the left side, angling into the box, and pinged it off the right post for the third goal. With that, the game was nearly sealed.

Then Brendan Rodgers countered with two substitutions of his own, subbing Lazar Markovic for Balotelli and Emre Can for Allen at 60 minutes for the restart.
Quickly warming to the action, Markovic made an early splash working a break down the flank with Manquillo that resulted in a corner. Then remained fairly quiet.

However in minute 69, Can made a ruggedly, strong run straight up the middle, finding Sterling, who then went on an exceptionally poised run, slashing open Spurs entire four player back line in the area, only to come up empty without a finish. With an end product it would have been the goal of the season already, but he may just have had too much time to think.

Beyond that there were a couple of near chances, but Sturridge seemed to lack some shooting sharpness today, despite being able to work the ball for a lane in tight spaces.

Liverpool always looked to get forward in possession but showed great progress in maintaining their defensive shape as a group, routinely getting ten men behind the ball and forcing Spurs into a predictable pattern of swinging the ball from one side of the field to the other with no real effect.

As the match wound toward an end, Spurs Ben Davis came on for and injured Danny Rose in minute 71. And Jose Enrique came on for a cameo, giving Sterling a breather after 85 minutes.

It was an impressive rebound for Liverpool, away from Anfield, especially after a tough loss to defending champions Manchester City. Better still, this match showed glimpses of the team that Reds fans have been waiting to reappear this campaign. Plus, the clean sheet should give Rodger’s newly minted defense and a slightly shaky Simon Mignolet some confidence as they head into an international break. Not quite the shelling of last season’s mid-season clash, but a decisive victory nonetheless.