Liverpool, United peace is good
This was a very emotional weekend for the entire world of English soccer. I think we’ve all seen the outpouring of support and relief after the results of the Hillsborough inquiry. The signs and the banners we saw at Anfield – and across all of the sport – say it all. It’s been about justice and respect, and I think the scenes we saw Sunday were very fitting for the 96 victims who sadly lost their lives.
This is an historic time for both teams. Manchester United held their hand out as a peace offering and Liverpool accepted it – and it is a delight to everyone to see. I think Liverpool Football Club and Sir Alex Ferguson deserve the credit for that, and it’s really very important for the game. Fans were very respectful, and it was stirring to see Ryan Giggs help release the balloons and to not hear the nasty chants that too often have rung out at this fixture.
On the field, it’s clear that Liverpool have a lot of work yet to do. I think things went wrong early on at the Hawthorns, with that loss to West Brom, and they have yet to recover from it. They are showing signs – they were the better team today – but it’s not enough yet. There’s a big gap between them and the top four.
A lot of people point to Jonjo Shelvey’s red card as the turning point in the game and they are right. It was a reckless tackle and the ref had no choice. Shelvey set the tone early on with that tackle on Rafael and it was clear he was going to, as we say in England, put himself about. People point at Jonny Evans in that tackle as well, but that’s a separate argument. Shelvey went in with both feet and left the trailing leg.
Now, I do think United got every 50/50 call – including on the penalty. I think that was just a hand on the back of Valencia, but the clatter between Glen Johnson and Pepe Reina sold it, and the ref bit. It was clumsy, but nothing more in my view.
The Reds have had a tough schedule – City, Arsenal, United – but they also are showing me that they need more than just Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard. The other players have to stand up and while some of the signs are positive, I’m not seeing the team put together two complete halves of soccer.
Our other big game was very impressive, and I have to give a lot of credit to Arsene Wenger and Steve Bould. This Arsenal side has enormous self-belief and they are as good as anyone in the league right now. Remember when it was all doom and gloom after Robin van Persie and Alex Song jumped ship? The managers have got this team to gel and some of the soccer is exquisite.
I do think the zonal marking Arsenal employed on the corner was foolish, however. I was brought up to have a man on the post, a man on the edge of the box and to mark the big men -- and that’s how I coach my own team. When you let an opponent get a run, you’re sunk – you just cannot react quickly enough. It doesn’t help when your keeper comes and misses the ball as Vito Mannone did on the goal, but that’s inexperience. Arsenal didn’t need to put him in that situation in the first place, and if Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny were marking Joleon Lescott, Vincent Kompany and so forth, they might have won the game.
On the other side of London, I was pleased to see Clint Dempsey get the run-out and another fine game from Brad Friedel. Back-to-back league wins should be a big confidence boost for the club as well. Jermain Defoe also seems to be coming good there, with his fourth goal of the season for the club.
I was talking to Brian McBride before the show about Brad, and how he remains so top-class. Brad is realistic – he’s not young and he maybe cannot jump as high as he used to – but he’s absolutely right to stand his corner and he continues to show that he is top-class.
Couple quick things: Chelsea showed me they have real depth. Roberto Di Matteo got a win – not a pretty one, but a win – over Stoke with some of his young kids out there. I think that was a challenge, a test if you will, and David Luiz, Tim Cahill, Oscar and Eden Hazard all passed it. I know there is talk about Frank Lampard coming over to America, but I think he’s made his mind up to stay at the Bridge and end his career there – I also think the possible sale of AEG, the Galaxy’s owner, might throw a spanner in the works of that too.
Last but not least, Tim Howard got another clean sheet and he is really leading Everton. Marouane Fellaini has seized the opportunity there as well with Tim Cahill gone to New York and it’s great to see the Toffees doing so well.