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Posts Tagged ‘Liverpool’

Liverpool bid for Costa amid conflicting advice for Suarez

Liverpool have made a £21 million bid for Atletico Madrid’s Brazilian striker Diego Costa, which will trigger a release clause in the player’s contract with the Spanish club allowing him to discuss terms with the reds. Costa, 24, has two caps for the Brazil national team, having made his debut as a substitute against Italy in March this year. He grew up playing street football in Brazil before moving to Europe at the age of seventeen where he joined Sporting Clube de Braga in Portugal and was swiftly sent out on loan to gain experience at second division Penafiel. He impressed there and was snapped up by Atletico Madrid, who immediately loaned him back to Braga and then to Celta Vigo and Albacete in subsequent seasons, where he started to build a reputation in Spain‘s second level. His career continued in an upward trajectory when he was sold to Valladolid at the start of the 2009-10 season and enjoyed first team football in the Primera Division, doing enough to convince Atletico to exercise their buy-back option on him at the end of the season. Since then he has gone on to play eighty three times for Atletico in all competitions, scoring twenty eight goals, either side of a loan spell at Rayo Vallecano, for whom he scored nine goals in sixteen appearances. The highlight of his club career to date was scoring in Atletico Madrid’s historic Copa del Rey final win over rivals Real Madrid at the end of last season.

It is thought that Liverpool are interested in signing Costa to bolster their attacking options, rather than to replace Luis Suarez, who is contemplating a move away from the club. A couple of high profile signings like Costa might convince Suarez of the club’s ambition and convince him to pledge his immediate future to Liverpool, and signing more top strikers will relieve Suarez from some of the burden of pressure to provide goals that fell so heavily on his shoulders last season. Meanwhile, Suarez has been receiving conflicting advice from all quarters about whether or not to stay with the club. Yesterday, former Liverpool Chief Executive Rick Parry was reported as saying that he should be allowed to leave as it’s counter productive to keep a player who wants to leave at a club, but today former Arsenal striker Ian Wright has said that he thinks Suarez should stay at Anfield. Arsenal are the only club to have made an offer for Suarez, but Wright told the BBC “if I was Suarez, when you look at everything, it does seem strange he would want to go to Arsenal. I would give Liverpool another season … if you look at Arsenal, not won anything in eight years, just challenging for fourth place, not really any players there who will make him say ‘I’m going to play with him and him’.

Steven Gerrard speaks about the Suarez situation

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has been speaking about the ongoing situation surrounding Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez’s future at the Anfield club. Gerrard, speaking to the Liverpool Echo ahead of his testimonial match against Olympiakos this weekend, spoke of how he’s been trying to persuade Suarez that his future lies at Liverpool, and explained that the Uruguayan’s decision is key to Liverpool’s chances this season.

Gerrard described Suarez as “the third best player in the world” and went on to say “you’ve got Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo who are on a different planet then you’ve got Suarez and Gareth Bale.” He expressed his concerns that if a player of that quality should leave the club and go to one of their direct rivals in the English Premier League then it would complicate things for Liverpool, saying “if he goes to Arsenal, it obviously makes our season that bit more difficult, it strengthens them an awful lot and they are our rivals for a top four position. From the club’s point of view it doesn’t make sense at all, no matter how much money is put on the table. Luis wants Champions League but so do I. If he was to stay around for twelve months and we achieved a top four finish, there is no better place in the world to play Champions League football than in front of an Anfield crowd.”

If Suarez is to eventually leave then Gerrard would like to see him go to one of the big two in Spain and would understand if that’s where he sees his future as with the majority of world class Spanish speaking players. However, he hopes to convince his team mate that it’s worth staying with Liverpool for at least another season to spearhead their Champions League qualification efforts and get back into Europe’s top club competition with his current employers. He feels that the squad isn’t far off the level needed to get back into the top four and said “if we get the couple of marquee signings we need and keep Luis that will give me confidence that we can compete. Keeping Luis could be our best signing of the summer”, so he remains hopeful of further top class arrivals at Anfield before the transfer window closes and thinks that those additions to the squad could help swing Suarez’s decision towards staying put. Suarez is expected to feature in the team for Gerrard’s testimonial.

Suarez joins up with Liverpool down under

Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez has joined up with his Liverpool team mates on their pre-season tour in Australia ahead of their friendly match against Melbourne Victory on Wednesday. The want-away striker is expected to feature in the match at the MCG, which will take place in front of a sold-out 95,000 crowd. Suarez missed Liverpool’s 2-0 win over an Indonesia XI in Jakarta at the weekend as he was given leave following Uruguay’s summer Confederations Cup campaign, but he’s now ready to join in with the club’s preparations for the upcoming season.

Suarez has made it public that he wants to move away to a Champions League club and he will be discussing his future with manager Brendan Rodgers this week. There have been plenty of rumours of interest in the striker from clubs such as Real Madrid in Spain and Arsenal and Chelsea in London, but it would take a huge offer to prise the player away from Anfield. Arsenal reportedly offered around £30 million for his earlier this month, but Liverpool will hold out until they receive an offer that matches their valuation upwards of £40 million. New Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti has yet to declare any concrete interest in the player, but he has said that Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain will be staying at the Bernabeu, thus ending Arsenal’s chase for his services and perhaps prompting the London club to ramp up their interest in Suarez. However, it’s thought that Suarez would prefer a move abroad if he is to leave Liverpool as he’s unhappy with his treatment from the British press. Ancelotti has already splashed out €30 million on Isco this summer, so the Spanish giants might be reluctant to stump up an even higher fee for another attacking player when they already have Ronaldo, Higuain and Benzema on the books.

The list of clubs that could potentially afford Luis Suarez is probably completed by Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco, but those three are already well advanced in their summer recruitment with all three having spent significantly on their front lines. City completed the purchase of Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic last week, PSG have already spent €64 million on Suarez’s international team mate Edinson Cavani and Monaco spent a similar amount on Radamel Falcao. If Suarez and his agent find that their options are too limited then Brendan Rodgers stands a good chance of being able to persuade the Uruguayan to stay on for another season and pay back some of the club’s support in standing by him throughout his turbulent past couple of years.

Carroll Exit Paves Way for Liverpool Signings

The transfer of striker Andy Carroll, 24, from Liverpool to West Ham United has finally been completed, with the player moving to Upton Park for an undisclosed fee, reportedly around £15 million. Carroll spent last season on-loan with the hammers scoring seven goals in twenty three league appearances and earned many plaudits for his accomplished performances leading the line at the east London club. Negotiations to make his move permanent have been ongoing since the end of last season and today Carroll finally put pen to paper on a six year contract. The transfer fee is a new club record for West Ham, but represents a £20 million loss for Liverpool on the £35 million that Kenny Dalglish paid Newcastle United for Carroll’s services in January 2011.

Now that the Anfield club can bank the income from Andy Carroll’s transfer they can move forward on some of their own summer targets and they look likely to start by signing FC Porto winger Christian Atsu for around £3 million. The twenty one year old Ghanaian has sixteen caps for his country with three goals and was part of the Ghana squad that got to the semi finals of this year’s Africa Cup of Nations. This was his first season as a regular in the FC Porto first team squad, having signed for the club as a seventeen year old. He made his mark on loan at Rio Ave the previous season, scoring six goals in the Portuguese top flight, before returning to his parent club and making seventeen appearances in this campaign, contributing one goal as Porto won the championship. Transfer negotiations are said to be at an advanced stage.

Liverpool’s recruitment plans seem to be focusing on the Iberian peninsula this summer as reports in Spain say that the club has made a substantial offer for Sevilla youngster Luis Alberto Romero, although the clubs have yet to agree on a price. The twenty year old attacking midfielder spent the season on loan at Barcelona B, scoring eleven goals in thirty eight games but is now back in Andalucia at his parent club, for whom he has only made a handful of first team appearances. He has represented Spain at under 18, 19 and 21 level. Staying in Spain, there have been no further developments in Liverpool’s attempts to sign Celta Vigo striker Iago Aspas. A transfer fee has been agreed between the two clubs but the player has yet to commit to a move.

Other Liverpool targets are Shakhtar Donetsk’s Armenian international midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet. The future of striker Luis Suarez, who is away with Uruguay at the Confederations Cup, has still to be clarified, with the player being linked to a potential move to Real Madrid, where he could yet link up with his international strike partner Edinson Cavani, who is also coveted by the Spanish club. One confirmed Liverpool signing is defender Kolo Toure, who arrives on a free transfer from Manchester City at the end of his contract.

Benítez aiming to build bridges at Chelsea

As a Liverpool fan, I have been asked several times over the last couple of days “How do you feel about Rafael Benítez joining Chelsea?” It’s a good question…

 

My initial reaction was one of antipathy. I still try and kid myself that football operates on a different level to real life. I’d like to believe that once a player or manager has a synonymous association with a club, it would be unthinkable for them to join a major rival. However, football is no different to life in general. People move on.

 

When Benítez left Liverpool by mutual consent in June 2010, he departed with dignity and the respect of the fans who had grown to love him during his largely successful six year reign. Not least for his final act before departing to Internazionale. He personally delivered a cheque for £96,000 to the Hillsborough Family Support Group. It was a touch of class from a very genuine man.

 

Two years on, seeing Benítez at Chelsea is difficult to swallow. It just doesn’t look right. Whilst the appointment will take some getting used to for Liverpool supporters, the real challenge for Benítez is to win over his new faithful. The majority of media coverage I have witnessed over the last two days seems to suggest that Chelsea fans are in agreement with their Liverpudlian counterparts. They appear far from happy with the appointment. Benítez’s trophy winning credentials seem to count for nothing. It’s proving difficult for the blues fans to look beyond the fact Benítez was their arch enemy. During his reign as reds chief, Benítez’s Liverpool faced Chelsea a staggering 26 times (winning 7, losing 12 and drawing 7). There was a dark sub-plot to many of these encounters, fueled in the main by a prickly relationship between José Mourinho and Benítez. During this time, Rafa’s name was taken in vain in many a Chelsea chant. Particular favourites cast him as an overweight Spanish waiter and ‘the bloke off the Go Compare adverts’!

 

In terms of their general feeling, I can totally understand where the Chelsea fans are coming from. Putting myself in their shoes, I would probably feel the same if Liverpool appointed the self professed ‘special one’. However in the interests of their club, the sooner they get beyond this stage of resistance the better. I truly believe Chelsea are a more dangerous outfit with Benítez in charge. He will take what is an already accomplished side and add an extra layer of solidity and tactical nous. Expect to see ‘Zonal Marking’ and ‘Squad Rotation’ trending on pundit’s cue cards in the coming weeks!

 

Much has been said about Benítez’s arrival being the catalyst for Fernando Torres’ long overdue renaissance. I believe his arrival will help but not necessarily for the technical and tactical reasons I have read elsewhere. I believe it is more of a personal issue. Torres trusts Rafa and more importantly, Torres knows that Rafa trusts him. He feels comfortable and at home with Rafa and this will enable him to shed some of the psychological burden that he has exerted on himself since his transfer from Liverpool. If he scores against Manchester City on Sunday, I sense a rapid improvement in form will be just around the corner.

 

While both sets of fans try to come to terms with the appointment, the man himself seems to be taking it all in his stride. He appeared his usual confident and measured self at the unveiling press conference on Thursday. His motivation for taking the job, albeit on a short-term basis is clear. It gives him the opportunity to work in a league he obviously loves with a crop of very talented players who have a genuine chance of winning silverware this season. If Benítez thrives in his post at Chelsea, his CV will require another coat of gloss and the possibilities for his career will multiply.

 

His ambition and determination, whilst being amongst his greatest strengths, can also manifest themselves as his biggest weakness. Stubbornness. During his times in charge of Valencia, Liverpool and Internazionale, he had open disagreements with each club’s hierarchy. The core of these disagreements was control of the playing staff. Benítez wanted total football ownership including player transfers. He will not get this at Chelsea. If owner Roman Abramovich wants something (or someone), he bypasses the club structure and he buys it. (Fortunately for Benítez, I don’t think Roman is a fan of Robbie Keane!) This may not become an issue due to the temporary nature of the relationship but, with a January transfer window to negotiate, the Spaniards patience may be tested.

 

Whilst he has been installed as ‘Interim Manager’ ®, the true length of Benítez’ stay at Stamford Bridge will be determined by his success between now and the end of the season coupled with the ability of Chelsea’s hierarchy to lure Pep Guardiola away from his sabbatical. If Guardiola is willing to join Chelsea, Benítez would be disposed of regardless of achievement. He could in theory land the Premier League, the Champions League/Europa League (delete as appropriate), the FIFA Club World Cup, the FA Cup and the League Cup and still be looking for a new job come June.

 

To coin a footballing cliché, at the end of the day both Liverpool and Chelsea fans alike must accept the situation. Rafa’s reign was an important chapter in Liverpool’s past but for the next seven months he is Chelsea’s future, whether any of us like it or not. I for one am not entirely happy with it but life goes on.

 

Liverpool Future Opponent Focus: Unirea Urziceni

 Liverpool face Romanian opposition in the form of unheralded Unirea Urziceni.  www.aboutaballco.uk assess the threat they pose in the Europa League.

History

Think of Romanian football and most English fans will think of the like of Steaua Bucharest and the other sides from the capital such as Rapid and Dinamo.  But times are changing in Romanian football and a provincial revolution led by the like of Cluj, Timisoara and Unirea Uriceni has shaken up the established order in Romanian football.

Following years as a provincial back-water in a town between Bucharest and the Black Sea coast, Unirea bumbled along seldom making a significant impact on even the local football scene, let alone a national one.  Promotion to the Romanian top-flight in 2005/06 changed all that and an impressive fifth place finish in their first season indicated they may be around for a while.

After a few more seasons of top-flight consolidation, Unirea claimed their first ever Romanian Championship in 2008/09 led by former Chelsea and Southampton defender Dan Petrescu after pipping Timisoara to the title by just three points and only finally assuming the top position of the league three-match days before the end of the season.

Season so far

That championship success granted entry into the Champions League for this season, and Unirea far from disgraced themselves claiming a more than respectable eight points in a group that contained Sevilla, VfB Stuttgart and Glasgow Rangers and finishing third overall. Home form was far stronger than away form, with a win coming against Sevilla and draws against the other two, but their best result was a 1-4 away win at Ibrox at the expense of Rangers.  That result gave them a chance of a surprise qualification for the knock-out stages in the final match against Stuttgart, but the Germans inspired by the arrival of new boss Christian Gross had a 3-0 lead in the first 11 minutes of the game, which they failed to relinquish.

Surprisingly Dan Petrescu has made way during the extended winter break in Romania, stepping down from the post to accept a managerial offer in Russia, and it remains to be seen what effect his departure will have on the squad.  Not only did Petrescu help Unirea to the best ever performance by a Romanian side at the Champions League group stage, but he left them joint top of the league with Cluj on 34 points after 17 matches.

Manager

The man to try and help fill the gap left by the former Romanian international, will be little known Israeli Ronny Levy.  The former Maccabi Haifa manager has an impressive record with one of Israel’s top sides leading them to three successive titles.  Credited with uncovering several top performers in the Israeli league as well as introducing advanced software-based coaching and training methods, Levy will have his work cut out replacing the most successful Unirea manager ever.

Players to watch

Top scorer for the club is Marius Ioan Bilasco, who opened the scoring at Ibrox with the equaliser for Unirea.  He has six goals overall for the season, in a side that generally shares the goals around pretty evenly.  Standing at just over 6’, Bilasco is decent in the air, and also good on the ground generally occupying a lone striking position under Petrescu in the Champions League.

Argentine left-back Pablo Brandan has been another strong performer for Unirea in their first ever Champions League campaign.  Equally comfortable coming forward as defending, Brandan arrived at Unirea after a spell in Spanish football with Alaves and Burgos.  The 26-year-old has three goals for the season and could present a threat down the left side of the pitch.

Strengths

- A strong home record, undefeated in Europe and just one loss in the league

- Happy to let the opposition dominate the ball, so will force Liverpool to take the initiative in the tie

- A squad out to impress their new boss

Weaknesses

 - Haven’t played since December in competitive football, so likely to be far from fully match fit

- Without inspirational manager Dan Petrescu, so will need to adapt to playing under a new manager

- Arguably only slightly stronger that Debrecen by comparison, so overall probably shouldn’t unduly trouble Liverpool over the course of the two-legs

Familiar faces

After the departure of Dan Petrescu, there are no other players or staff members that have any connections with English football

 Have we met before?

With such scant European history, this will be Unirea’s first meeting with any side from the English game.  Liverpool have played Romanian opposition on four occasions, the last time dating from the 2000/01 run to the UEFA Cup final when they overcame Rapid Bucharest 1-0 on aggregate.

The beauty of the FA Cup lives on

Would you turn down the chance at winning this lovely bit of silverware?

Some people may continue to question the importance and value of the FA Cup to English football. Certain clubs have selected under-strength teams in the competition and maybe haven’t given it the respect it deserves. It is known as the ‘greatest cup competition in the world’ for a reason, and the beauty of the tournament has been there for everyone to see over the last few weeks.

Those teams who fielded under-strength sides will almost certainly look on with envy when they sit down and watch the final on May 15th. There is something special about the FA Cup final. The history, the tradition, the whole Wembley experience, and that doesn’t come around too often.

While a few teams have tried to undermine the FA Cup, matches in the last few weeks have gone to prove there is still something special about the competition. High levels of passion, commitment and desire have been shown both on the pitch and in the stands, with the Leeds v Tottenham fourth round replay being a perfect example. Both teams were desperate to win the game on the field whilst in the stands both sets of fans made so much noise and showed the watching world that this competition matters.

The FA Cup is famous for it’s ‘David v Goliath’ shock results, and this season there hasn’t been a shortage of those. Notts County beating Wigan Athletic, Leeds United winning at Old Trafford to defeat Manchester United, Reading overcoming first Liverpool and then Burnley. Results like these simply cannot be predicted and it is that unpredictability that keeps everybody on the edge of their seat and that’s what gives the FA Cup it’s magic.

The oldest cup competition in club football is alive and kicking, don’t let Sir Alex Ferguson or anyone else convince you otherwise.

English Debate: What does the arrival of Milan Jovanovic mean for Liverpool

Milan Jovanovic will be plying his trade in the red of Liverpool next season...

With news that Liverpool have agreed a pre-contract to acquire Serbian forward Milan Jovanovic in the summer, aboutaball.co.uk assess the possible impact the current Standard Liege forward could have when he arrives at the club and whether this means Rafa Benitez will remain at the helm.

 

It’s been a long pursuit to finally reel in Milan Jovanovic and after attempting to bring him over to England during this transfer window, Rafa Benitez and Liverpool have had to settle for the second best option and wait until the summer before they get their man. 

The 28-year-old will arrive at the end of the season having played four seasons in Belgian football and has already had stints abroad in both Russia (Lokomotov Moscow) and Ukraine (Shakhtar Donetsk) after breaking through with Vojvodina in his homeland.  Jovanovic’s stats make for pretty good reading; this season he’s hit 10 goals in 19 domestic league matches, and has a further two in five Champions League outings.  In terms of style of play his height (6’0) suggests a similar type to Dirk Kuijt, but Jovanovic hailing from the Balkans, as one might expect, is also decent on the ball, and is arguably more comfortable in possession than the Dutch international.

Liverpool were by no means the only team interested in picking up the Serbian, after he announced his intention to quit Standard at the end of his contract in the summer.  Jovanovic became frustrated at his club’s unwillingness to cooperate in sorting out a move away around 12 months ago when PSV Eindhoven came calling, and was free to discuss a potential move since the turn of the year.  Furthermore being over 24 years of age, there was no compensation due to Standard, so the chance to sign a fully-fledged Serbian international on a free aroused the interest of several clubs around Europe.

Since that transfer to Holland fell through, the fee between the two clubs being the stumbling block, Juventus were thought to have considered the 24 times capped Serbian international, whilst Birmingham City were also linked with him.

However, Liverpool have now managed to nip in and sort a deal out believed to be worth around £2.5 million a year.  Around Anfield he is thought to be a good alternative to Kenwyne Jones, whose transfer ultimately didn’t come to pass.

A player for the system, or a system for the player?

Nevertheless there remains the question of precisely what sort of role Jovanovic will be expected to fulfill when he finally arrives at Anfield in the summer.  So far Rafa Benitez hasn’t shown any great inclination to tinker with the one forward up front system, and certainly when Fernando Torres is fit there is no debate as to who will play that role.  That means that once again a player will be transferred into Anfield and be promptly asked to adapt his style of player to fit into a tactical model.

Liverpool fans may also be questioning the long-term future of Dirk Kuijt at the club.  As already pointed, Jovanovic is a better footballer than the former Feyenoord-forward, and his arrival could mean that the hard working Dutchman’s days are numbered on Merseyside.  Juventus are already considered as potential front runners for Kuijt’s signature, so the opportunity to generate some much-needed cash by selling him on with his replacement already lined up may be too good to turn down.

Fernando Torres aside, recent striking arrivals at Anfield have hardly been successes, with Andrei Voronin now just a distant, albeit painful memory.  The less said about Ryan Babel the better and David Ngog is still struggling to mature into the sort of striker many hoped he might develop into at PSG.  With that in mind Jovanovic doesn’t have a great deal to live up to, but it suggests that the Liverpool management struggle to make sure that forwards with good records at their previous club’s can continue their good form upon arrival at Anfield.

Statistically Jovanovic’s goal record of about one in every two Belgian matches will have Liverpool fan’s excited, but history indicates that the Premiership generally isn’t kind to Serbian forwards.  Mateja Kezman arrived at Chelsea from PSV with an even better record, yet is regarded as a flop at Stamford Bridge.  Looking further back, Savo Milosevic and Darko Kovacevic both endured torrid spells at Aston Villa and Sheffield Wednesday respectively, before returning to mainland Europe to have productive careers.  Whilst the Premiership landscape has changed to an extent since their brief sojourns, the English league still retains a unique character, and will take time to acclimatize to.

A long-term view

Another factor that should not be ruled out is the future of Benitez at Liverpool.  The Spaniard has failed to deliver in the league, and despite his enduring popularity on the Kop, inevitably patience will start to wear thin, especially if Liverpool fail to make it into the Champions League for next season, something there is no guarantee of at this point.  Does this pre-transfer, which will cost Liverpool over £10 million reportedly in wages over the next four years, mean that Benitez’s long-term future is secure?

An example from the Bundesliga last winter emphatically says not.  Then, the Bayern Munich board allowed Jurgen Klinsmann to bring in Mario Gomez for €30 million on a pre-transfer for the beginning of this season, but still sacked him before the end of 2008/09.  Gomez struggled to find his feet under new boss Louis van Gaal, who was at pains to frequently point out that the former Stuttgart-striker’s arrival in Bavaria had nothing to do with him.  Currently the Liverpool board don’t seem to know what to do about the current mess then find themselves in, let alone thinking about future plans, so there is every chance that Benitez could be sacked, and Jovanovic dumped on another manager.

That of course is a very down beat scenario, but the omens for Jovanovic in terms of his playing role within the team don’t look entirely positive given the tactical intransigence at the club.  Additionally if Kuijt remains at Liverpool, exactly how much football (probably out of his natural position) Jovanovic can expect to get also remains open to debate.  If this is the case, Jovanovic could unfortunately turn out to be a very expensive bench-warmer.

Premiership Comment: Tottenham – Just like watching Brazil?

After yesterday’s 2-0 defeat to Liverpool, www.aboutaball.co.uk looks at the ultra-narrow formation employed by Harry Redknapp at Anfield and asks whether a midfield containing both Luka Modric and Niko Kranjcar has a future.

 It used to be a chant that fans of Barnsley sang: “It’s just like watching Brazil, it’s just like watching Brazil”, they chorused, I assume in a somewhat self-effacing manner.  That was until it took them all the way to the Premiership.  The origins of it aren’t clear, but Spurs fans at Anfield yesterday could have sang it, and been largely accurate.  With the narrow formation in midfield that Spurs adopted, it was much like watching Brazil, or in fact any Brazilian league team.

The Sky Sports graphic went with Modric on the right and Kranjcar on the left, but probably only because they couldn’t really conceive what would have been a closer depiction of reality.  That would have been for Palacios and Jenas to be shown as slightly deeper lying central midfielders, Modric and Kranjcar playing ahead of them, but also in a central position, and with then two centre-forwards in the shape of Defoe and Crouch in front of them. 

Not so much 4-4-2, as 4-2-2-2.

It’s a formation that may sound unlikely, but in fact is commonly employed in South America, most obviously in Brazil.  Indeed Tottenham wouldn’t even be the first team to have tried it out in Europe; Real Madrid under Wanderly Luxemburgo played the system a few years ago, with the Spanish press dubbing it ‘Magic Squares’. 

Indeed one Tottenham player would be no stranger to the whole concept.  Goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes’ side Cruzeiro often played this formation, which encourages the full-backs to provide the width and sees the team playing not only with two strikers but two creative attackers given licence to drift across the attacking line.

However, the side that played it best during Gomes’ time with Cruzeiro. when they won the 2003 Brazilian league with a 100 points from 46 games, was Santos, who finished second, but reached the final of the Copa Libertadores.  With the like of Diego and Elano adopting the deeper creative positions, Robinho was given the task of playing up front with Ricardo Oliveira (ex-Real Betis, Valencia and AC Milan), and they created havoc between the four of them until they ran up against Boca Juniors in the final.  There the Argentines mercilessly exploited the lack of natural width with Hugo Ibarra and Clemente Rodriguez doubling up on the over-worked Brazilian full-backs and ran out 5-1 winners over the course of the two games.

Real Madrid under Wanderly Luxembergo quickly discovered the draw-backs to the system too.  After making the best start to a managerial career of any foreigner at the helm of Real Madrid, Spanish sides quickly worked out the key to breaking down the ‘Magic Squares’ was to get the full-backs and wingers to overload the Real defenders, and Roberto Carlos and Michel Salgado were quickly swamped.  Luxembergo lasted until about Christmas, and the whole thing has been forgotten about.

Been there, done that

Or it had been, until Harry decided to resurrect the whole idea against Liverpool.  Many wondered how he was planning to accommodate the obvious talents of Kranjcar and Modric into the team when both would be available, and this has been the answer.  The pair first started together in the FA Cup win against Peterborough earlier this month, and with Kranjcar getting the first two goals in a 4-0 win there was evidently little need to tinker with the system.  The 0-0 draw last weekend against Hull was less inspiring, and the performance against Liverpool going forward suggests that some more consideration will need to be given to the whole subject.

For 4-2-2-2 to work, you really need an opposition playing the same system.  That leaves the wide areas to the full-backs to dispute, and the match boils down to which side can move the ball quickest through an obviously congested midfield area.  It can be pretty good to watch when played in Brasilerao, as the Brazilian league is known, but it can also make for some awful matches.  I still rate a league match played between Rio-rivals Vasco da Gama and Fluminense as the worst match I’ve seen in over a decade.

Will it ever work for Spurs?

First of all Vedran Corluka at right-back simply isn’t the sort of rampaging full-back who is going to get forward and deliver crosses into the box.  Comfortable also playing at centre-back, the Croat is a sensible choice at right-back, who can be relied upon to put in a good defensive shift, but raiding forward isn’t really his natural game.  The alternative is Alan Hutton, who is better getting forward, but something of a liability in defensive terms.

Tottenham would also need to move the ball a lot quicker through the midfield area for the system to work.  Kranjcar and Modric were comfortably taken care of by Javier Mascherano and Lucas on behalf of Liverpool last night.  The Croat brainstrust in the Spurs midfield will both need to up their movement significantly to find space, and the like of Jenas and Palacios would need to get the ball quicker to them for this to reap any benefit. 

Yesterday the short-comings of Spurs in terms of natural width weren’t exposed to any great extent by Liverpool, who started with the out of form Albert Riera on one flank and defender Philip Degen on the other.  However, a side like Aston Villa with Ashley Young and James Milner in the team would have a field day against Tottenham in this formation.  And once the system has been shown to be flawed, most opposition managers will quickly adopt the same tactics, against which Spurs may have little recourse. 

With Aaron Lennon out injured, Tottenham’s most obvious provider of the width, it is to be hoped that this ultra-narrow formation is just temporary until his return, if the standard of the forward play against Liverpool is going to set the standard for the second half of the season for Spurs.  With just one point form the last available six in the league, and another failure to beat one of the traditional big-four away from home, Tottenham’s Champions League aspirations may come under severe pressure if this 4-2-2-2 formation is used for much longer.

Liverpool fail Reading test in Long night at Anfield

Things have gone from bad to worse for Rafa Benitez as he saw his beleagered Liverpool side dumped out of the FA Cup by Championship Reading in front of a paltry 31,000 fans. To compound the situation, star players Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard both limped off with knee and hamstring injuries respectively.

Reading, who were the equal of their Premier League opposition in the first match, were not overawed by their trip to Anfield for the replay and gave as good as they got in the first half but went to the interval a goal down after good work from Gerrard caused Ryan Bertrand to deflect a cross into his own net in first half stoppage time. By then, Torres had already left the field and the Liverpool captain failed to re-emerge for the second period, which must have given the visitors renewed hope.

Reading were the better side for much of the second half but the equalising goal eluded them until deep into injury time when a rash trip from Benayoun on Long gifted them a penalty and Gylfi Sigurdsson held his nerve from the spot to force extra time. By then, the stands had already started to empty as fans headed for the warmth of their homes on a bitterly cold night.

Although Liverpool pushed forward for much of the extra half hour, it was Reading who made the breakthrough when substitute Shane Long headed the winner in the 100th minute. Benayoun and Ngog wasted chances to save the tie for Liverpool and the Royals held on for a famous victory, caretaker manager Brian McDermott’s first win in charge. A home game against Burnley awaits in the fourth round. Liverpool will hope that the injuries to Gerrard and Torres are only minor, as initial reports suggest, but the cup exit piles yet more pressure on the Benitez regime.

In Wednesday night’s other FA Cup tie, Newcastle United beat Plymouth Argyle 3-0 with a hattrick from Peter Lovenkrands. They face a trip to West Bromwich Albion in the next round.

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