Can Liverpool Continue Despite Their Defence?

Liverpool are doing well despite their defence, rather than because of it - can they get away with that for much longer? Plus, the 'thing' between Arsenal and Stoke...

Last Updated: 28/02/14 at 08:21 Post Comment

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Liverpool
An opportunity presents itself for Liverpool this weekend, not necessarily to improve their chances of winning the title, but to cement their spot in the top four, which should be and indeed is their primary aim for them this season.

With Manchester City's participation in the League Cup final on Sunday putting them out of action, Liverpool will go at least third if they beat Southampton in the late kick-off on Saturday, while they could be in second place should Arsenal lose at Stoke.

They will of course have to solve a few issues, or at least go some way to doing so, if they are to make any sort of impression on the season so far, most notably at the back.

"We know we need to control games better than that as a team," Kolo Toure said this week, discussing the madcap game against Swansea last week.

"If you want to be in the top four or win the league, you need to defend well. We are scoring a lot of goals but for sure we need to get a better balance.

"It was a tough game against Swansea. The fact that the other top teams played on Saturday and all won put a bit more pressure on us. The manager spoke to us about that before the game.

He's right, of course, even if statements like that belong firmly in the 'no sh*t' files. Away at Southampton is a darn sight tougher than home to Swansea, where their occasionally slapstick defence shipped goals in a variety of creative ways.

Quite apart from their defence, Liverpool's away record needs to improve if they are to even get close to being a title-challenging team. While they have won 12 from 14 at Anfield, they have only five away wins to their name, so a victory and a clean sheet at St Mary's would go some way to answering two questions.

"We conceded disappointing goals last weekend but ultimately, at this stage of the season, it's about winning," said Brendan Rodgers this week. That's true of course, but at the moment Liverpool are winning in spite of their defence, rather than because of it.


Stoke
In some ways it's quite remarkable how a player for one team can - accidentally or otherwise - snap someone's leg in half, then that team can somehow manage to paint themselves as the victims.

"Yes, we have got this thing with Arsenal," Stoke chairman Peter Coates said this week.

"We were very disappointed with how the Shawcross incident was treated because we thought there was never any intent whatsoever on Ryan's part.

"We thought he was very badly treated over that incident in various quarters and it was wholly unfair on him.

"Players get bad injuries all the time in professional football, and in the vast majority of cases there is no blame to be attached, but Ryan seemed to be unfairly singled out over this one, in my opinion."

It's probably a good thing that Aaron Ramsey is not yet ready for selection for Arsenal as they travel to the Britannia this weekend, given the 'issues' that would no doubt arise from his return. Still, expect as spicy a reception as ever for Arsene Wenger's men in the Potteries.


Arsenal
They will face that spicy reception with a few injury issues, which is of course more or less a default position for Arsenal, but they will face Stoke with something of a patchwork defence.

Both Kieran Gibbs and Nacho Monreal are doubtful, which means Thomas Vermaelen will probably have to play at left-back.

Cue Gooners all over the place repeating 'It's going to be fine. It's going to be fine. It's going to be fine' over and over to themselves.


Mesut Ozil
"Ozil had a difficult game [against Bayern Munich]," Arsene Wenger said on Thursday. "It's good to refresh when you are under pressure."

Will ten days be enough to fully 'refresh' Arsenal's record signing? The truth about his performances lies somewhere in between the two extremes of the argument, as these things tend to, but few could deny that he hasn't had quite the direct impact we might have expected him to have since joining from Real Madrid.

Perhaps a week and a bit away from the first team will help Ozil out, and he will return with joy in his heart and a spring in his step. If he does, and he comes back as the player that everyone knows he can be, then some of those doubts about Arsenal's title credentials will fade away somewhat.


Tottenham
There are plenty of Spurs fans that will tell you last weekend's defeat to Norwich had been coming for a while.

Tim Sherwood has of course done a better job than many expected in his time at White Hart Lane so far, and their results have been pretty good, but performances have been erratic. It seemed remarkable that a team could swing so violently from beating Newcastle so convincingly, to such an insipid showing in the defeat at Carrow Road, but swing Spurs did.

That was a point emphasised by their performance in the Europa League on Thursday, in which Spurs were terrible for long spells, but a second-half blitz and three goals in 13 minutes put them through to the last 16. They still looked oddly vulnerable in the closing stages against Dnipro, despite the Ukraine side having ten men, largely thanks to Jan Vertonghen's Slaven Bilic impression, for most of the second half.

One of Sherwood's key problems for the remainder of the season might be up front. We all know about Roberto Soldado, who looks a husk of a striker, a confidence black hole that doesn't even look like he can remember how to score goals. Jermain Defoe has now left, so the only real striking option Sherwood has is Emmanuel Adebayor.

The big man from Togo has eight goals since his return to the first team and bagged a couple against Dnipro, which is obviously a fine record and the last two of those came as recently as the Newcastle game, but much like Tottenham's performances as a whole, there is a slump in the post. History has taught us that Adebayor plays well when he has something to gain, whether that's having a point to make or a contract to earn, so now with the memory of Andre Villas-Boas and his ostracising from the team fading, will Adebayor keep scoring?

If not, Spurs can say ta ra to those hopes of making the top four.


Fulham
If you've seen a collection of gentlemen shuffling around west London recently with thousand-yard stares on their faces, looking haggard, ragged and as if they've 'seen things', the chances are they're Fulham players.

Felix Magath has a history of getting results pretty quickly with his teams in Germany through his 'Drill Sergeant from Full Metal Jacket' approach to training, and with Fulham bottom of the league, he will have to repeat that trick here.

While most people will see it as a reassurance that he won't just be doing one at the first sign of trouble, fans of positive thinking might not have appreciated Magath saying this week that he would stick around at Fulham even if they did get relegated. Should the 'R' word be banned at Craven Cottage? Magath's more, erm, 'robust' attitude to these things might mean he doesn't believe in such frippery, of course.

No amount of positive thinking can disguise how rotten Fulham have been lately, of course - their last win came on January 1 and they have collected just two points in the intervening seven games.

Things are looking bad a the Cottage, and Magath looks like he will have to perform a similar turnaround to the one Roy Hodgson managed back in 2008. Still, if they could do it then...


Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Panic seems to be setting in, if you believe what the papers tell us. This week there have been various stories in various papers about various chairman getting impatient that their relatively freshly-appointed managers aren't having the desired impact.

Chief among those are Solskjaer and Pepe Mel, both subject of tales in The Times, not generally a paper prone to knee-jerkery or hyperbole, that their respective employers are looking nervously at their team's form, and wondering if a change might be in order.

Given that Mel has only been in place for six league games and Solskjaer for seven, the instinctive response might be that surely they won't possibly be binned after such a short amount of time. However, Rene Meulensteen will testify that, if someone else, someone theoretically 'better', becomes available, the clubs in question will hardly pause for breath before getting rid. And, as Meuelensteen will further testify, that someone can come out of nowhere.

Mel in particular, who has yet to win a game despite gaining reasonably creditable draws against Liverpool and Chelsea, might be a little nervous after the weird statement West Brom put out regarding the speculation, in which they basically said 'We could do without being relegated, we've talked about not being relegated, and we're trying not to get relegated'. Why bother releasing a statement if you're not going to say anything?

Whether the speculation has any merit to it or not, it remains true that unless Mel and Solskjaer don't start turning their respective form around pretty soon, their teams will be heading towards the bottom of the table in rapid fashion. West Brom have a weekend off (they were due to play Sunderland, otherwise engaged at Wembley), but Cardiff face Spurs at White Hart Lane.

Solskjaer said last week that a record-low points total might be enough to stay up this season (the current low for a team that survived is 34), so at least he's trying to set a low bar, but with 11 games to go, Cardiff won't even reach that point if they carry on as they are.


Norwich
One win is great, and Chris Hughton will no doubt have been encouraged with how his side scrapped for the three points against Tottenham, but Norwich cannot rest. They need points, and quickly, because as both this site and this column have pointed out on a number of occasions, they basically need to have enough for survival by their 34th game.

Their last four fixtures are against Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal, so as they're now on 27 points from 27 games, that means they probably need 10 or 11 points (at least) from their next seven games. Not impossible by a long way, but it will be made much easier with a win at Aston Villa on Sunday.



Aston Villa
Villa themselves aren't completely safe, especially since they have gained just one point and scored one goal in their last four games. A victory at the weekend will take them to 31 points, meaning from there they can basically stumble through the rest of the season and be more or less OK.

In theory, that is.


Everton
There are only a couple of ways this season could get worse for David Moyes. One would be elimination from the Champions League, and another is the indignity not only failing to mount even the most nominal of title defences, of not even qualifying for the Champions League, but Everton finishing above Manchester United at the end of the season.

Should Roberto Martinez's side beat West Ham on Saturday, they will go three points ahead of United, who are out of action this weekend.

Poor Davie.


West Ham
It's probably unlikely that West Ham will rise above their current 10th place, given the eight-point gap between them and Southampton in ninth, but they are looking for their fifth win in a row at Everton on Saturday.

Sam Allardyce doesn't need any further praise from external sources, as he's quite happy to do that himself, but it's not bad for a manager who was a dead man walking a couple of months ago.


Ashley Cole
While Jose Mourinho is a confirmed fan of Cesar Azpilicueta, this weekend could see Cole given a chance at left-back, such is the small amount of time between their Champions League game against Galatasaray and the league encounter with Fulham.

Cole's inclusion in Roy Hodgson's England squad for the friendly against Denmark indicates that he has not been completely forgotten about and discounted for a spot on the plane to Brazil, but one would imagine he will have to do something to impress Hodgson between now and the end of the season.

The way Mourinho is going, Cole might not have many more chances to impress, so he had better take the ones he is given.

Nick Miller - follow him on Twitter

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Synergy
Toure: I am staying with City

G

uess we can expect Toure's explanation of his behaviour around the same time Pete Townshend publishes his book then.

ceeps
Toure: I am staying with City

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amn you Yaya, don't scare me like that! I only ate the icing. I didn't eat the soft and scrumptious middle - I will buy you another cake!

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Toure: I am staying with City

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