Thursday, August 22, 2013

Match Preview: Aston Villa vs. Liverpool FC 24/8/2013

This weekend we head to Villa Park. Last year we had success here, winning the match 2-1 after falling behind due to the 31st minute strike by Christian Benteke. On the day Henderson scored, and Gerrard converted a penalty.  This game was played three and a half months after the humiliating defeat we suffered at Anfield. The 3-1 loss was due to Villas shocking speed and commitment to playing on the counter attack. Reina was beaten by Benteke twice and Weimann scoring between the two. Gerrard scored a late consolation goal, but the loss broke our two game winning streak.
The Reds are looking to continue their good form after their 1-0 win over stoke last weekend. We are currently sitting in 7th on the table due to goal differential and alphabetical order. With a win for us we could be propelled into the top 4, granted there will have only been two games played for most teams. The key things to look out for in this game for Liverpool fans are as follows.
~Our movement both on and off the ball: With Coutinho hopefully playing in the center behind Sturridge, he will be able to do what he does best, which is to wriggle free from challenges and find Danny in behind the defense.
~ Possession: After watching Villa play both Arsenal last weekend and Chelsea on Wednesday I noticed a trend of Villa “Parking the Bus”. That means we should be able to command the lion’s share of the ball on Saturday. In the two matches last season, in the loss we had the ball for 72% of the game, and in the win we had only 53% of possession. This shows that after the loss (attributed to not being able to finish or defend, even though Villa had the ball for roughly 25 minutes of the match) we learned that against Villa playing a lot more direct pays dividends.
~ Our midfield: We will hopefully be fielding a strong midfield this weekend. I would like to see a midfield 5 of Enrique, Lucas, Gerrard, Coutinho, and either Johnson. We would have our “normal” core of players, and Enrique and Johnson would play as wing backs on the flanks.
There are two things that we need to be weary of this Saturday however, Benteke, and the long ball. In both games that Villa have played this season they seemed to just lump the ball forward towards Benteke, who in turn just heads it on to someone else or brings it down and holds it up.  There are things we can do to prevent this eventuality though:
~ Have someone always marking Benteke: this would solve the problem, however that would very easily tire out one (or more) of our defenders.
~ Press very high up the pitch: This is another reason I would have a midfield 5 instead of running a 4-3-3. With Enrique and Johnson added into the midfield we should be able to pressure the Villa defenders to the point where their long balls become ineffective.

Formation: 3-5-2
I would run a 3-5-2 in the first half, to contain Benteke and Weimann and attempt to keep them from getting any service.
            I would go with Kelly in this formation just so we have our fastest defender in the middle of the pitch, so that should a long ball make it to Benteke he cannot head it on to Weimann.
Predicted Outcome: Aston Villa 1-3 Liverpool 

            I am predicting a rather sizeable victory for us due to Villa playing 10 starters in their game against Chelsea on Wednesday. Once we reach the final third of the game I am guessing that most of their starters will be tired out. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

LFC vs. Stoke City 17/8/2013 Pre-Match Preview.

Last year was full of ups and downs that much is for sure. However for some reason in the second half of our last campaign, it was mostly ups.....but holy shit did it have a rocky start. Our first game of the second half of the season saw us travel to the Britannia, where we got lucky enough to get a pen in the second minute (I believe our first of the domestic campaign), only to then go on and lose 3-1. Now keep in mind that we didn't have the team we would have for the rest of the second half that day. Without our midfield maestro Coutinho who transferred in on the 26th of January, and our (arguably) star striker of the second half Sturridge who came in on the second day of the January window, we struggled to do much other than keep possession of the ball. Now that the recap of our pre-January woes is complete, let’s look to the upcoming campaign which will see us focus more on the league than anything else. 

Chances are we will be playing mostly younger players when we take on the likes of Notts County, etc. in both the league cup (COC) and the FA Cup. That being said, we should be able to reap the benefits of having everyone healthier and more energetic for our league games. Last year we played a lot of starters in the EL on Thursdays, causing some (probably not a lot) fatigue for our league games on the following Sundays. We have the opportunity to take care of getting our first win very early this season with our first matches being Stoke, Villa, and Man U. I can see us getting two wins and a draw out of those matches, however strange things tend to happen when Liverpool is concerned. Last year we started out flat only winning our first match when we beat Norwich 5-2 in our sixth match of the year. But there have been large changes from that team, with transfers and having longer to settle into the playing style of the then new manager.

This off season saw us play seven friendlies, winning six and losing one. Not a bad record some would say, however the more impressive stat is that we only conceded two goals in those seven matches. Most of our opponents were pushovers, but some weren't. We played Celtic, a true CL team, and only lost 1-0 because we had a very inexperienced (at CB anyway) Wisdom at CB. We played our game, dominated possession, and looked good going forward; we just couldn't make the breakthrough. We also played CL hopefuls Olympiacos, who we beat 2-0. We played a VĂ¥lerenga side and won 4-1, a team that just last year held the to be English champions to a goalless draw. In the seven friendlies we scored seventeen goals, so we really shouldn't be hurting too much for goals this season. All these stats show that we have grown as a team since the last time we played Stoke in the league. We have gained three great options going forward since then and a stalwart defender in Kolo Toure, who also looks to be pretty promising on corners, both attacking and defending. In Aspas, the newest player to come in we got 4 goals and 3 assists in preseason; Sturridge, who scored 10 for us in the second half of the season last year; and Coutinho, who had more assists in the 13 games he played than any other player in the league in that many games. Where we have improved, Stoke has floundered.

Starting this season as largely the same squad as last year (minus a new LB and CB that came in and a few transfers out) under a new manager, Stoke looks rather easily beatable by us this weekend. They always give us a good run out though, so it will be tough. Last year, we drew the home fixture 0-0. I expect much better from us this year, especially if Sturridge is fit for the start. He has the ability and speed to stretch the defense and make it in behind them, and something that helps even more with that is that Asmir Begovic is coming off of a game with his national team where he let in four, so hopefully his confidence is low. Our opponents were known for their rough and tumble approach when Tony Pulis was the manager, but how will they play under Mark Hughes?  ESPN writer Michael Cox thinks he'll play something between Pulis' aggressive defending style and tiki-taka( I think that this change will take time just like it took time for us to settle into the new style last year. 

All signs point to us having a great game against Stoke this Saturday, as we kick off the EPL for the season.
Subs: Jones, Skrtel, Assaidi, Sterling, Ibe, Borini, Kelly

SCORE PREDICTION: Liverpool 4-0 Stoke

Preseason Compilation (Credit to Liverpool FC Highlights):