Toon, Reds earn credit on sad weekend

FOX Soccer’s lead analyst reflects on the latest news in and around English soccer.

Today was a sad day for football worldwide. To say it was a shock to learn about Gary Speed, a good friend of mine and of my family, is an understatement.

Gary was a true gentleman, a good family man and the best professional I have ever worked with. I’ve played with a lot of great players, and he was better than any of them: genuinely top class in the way he handled himself on and off the pitch. He was the kind of man you wanted to be around, honestly. He was a guy that you could go out with after a match to the pub for a few drinks, and a guy who you’d have over with the wives and kids for dinner. He had the worst laugh I’ve ever heard, but that was part of his persona. He was just good fun to be around. We talk about “good guys,” and “legends” too much, but Gary was truly that. He had so much going for him and was so genuinely loved by everyone in football.

His wife, Louise, is good friends with my wife, and his two boys are the same ages as mine. I cannot imagine what they are going through right now. I talked to him on Tuesday, and I cannot help but think that, whatever he was going through, if he only knew that there were hundreds if not thousands of people who were there for him, maybe this would not have happened. He was genuinely loved by all of us, and this is a tragedy.

It’s hard to talk about sport on a day like this, but Gary would have wanted us to. He liked to say “get on with it,” and so let’s talk about two of the big games of the week.

Newcastle: Give them the credit they deserve

The first obviously is Newcastle’s draw with Manchester United. Obviously, I’m thrilled, and all credit to Alan Pardew and John Carver for getting a point. It’s difficult to bounce back after what happened against City, and they showed a lot of poise and got it done.

Before you ask about the penalty, the answer is: No, it wasn’t one. Rio clearly played the ball. I’ve been on the end of plays like that myself, and the fact is, sometimes the decisions just don’t go your way. The ref went with his assistant, and they are human and make mistakes. Maybe that’s Lady Luck – but I can tell you it won’t be the last dubious call to ever be made at Old Trafford.

That shouldn’t have us overlook Newcastle’s tremendous defensive performance. Steve Taylor and Fabricio Coloccini — the whole back line, really — and Tim Krul in goal were superb. Did they ride their luck? Yeah, but every team has to do that at Old Trafford, so give them the credit they deserve.

Reds send message to league

Sunday, I think we saw Liverpool make a big statement to the rest of the Premier League. After the way they performed at Stamford Bridge, I think people were looking to see if that could be kept up. After going a goal down, Lescott’s own goal clearly gave them belief and they were really the better team.

Lucas and Charlie Adam were absolutely brilliant in midfield, and what can you say about Luis Suarez? He’s one of the most skilled strikers anywhere, but his work rate is just phenomenal. He never gives up and was a constant threat.

Tactically, I think Kenny Dalglish again got it right. I wanted to see a response form City after their midweek loss in Naples, and for the first 20 minutes or so, we saw that. But Dalglish forced them to play a more frantic game, pressing Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure, and didn’t allow City to play at their own tempo. When you do that, they are less comfortable and that showed.

Now, I said before the game that these are the types of games you cannot lose if you want to win the title, and City didn’t lose, even after having Mario Balotelli sent off. They rode a bit of luck themselves and got great play out of Joe Hart, but what City have to do is be a bit smarter in these games, and Balotelli especially cannot be running risks like that.

But I also think that Roberto Mancini has to avoid making Balotelli the scapegoat. He’s a young player and has this temperament, but you cannot point the finger at him every time something negative happens. He’s been very good for them of late and he’s a young man, so I want to see Mancini look after him a bit and protect him. Balotelli’s got to learn from this, for sure, but it is just as sure that City are going to need him.

We’ve got a lot of games coming up this week on FOX Soccer, and I hope you do join us for all of them. Remember, you can always follow me on Twitter at @warrenbarton2 and send questions in for me to answer in this column at @FOXSoccer. As always, thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next week.